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Dismemberment Case Witness Says Uncle, Nephew Got Along

September 04, 2003|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

The owner of a grocery store testified in court Wednesday that Fadel Tawil and the nephew Tawil is accused of killing and dismembering had seen each other frequently and shown no signs of animosity.

Elia Shaheen owns the store where Tawil's son works. Tawil, 65, is accused in the murder of his nephew, 35-year-old Hilal Taweel, because the younger man frequently took in Tawil's daughter when she ran away from home.

Taweel's lower torso and a leg were found on Jan. 2, 1999, at a Sun Valley recycling plant. No other body parts have been found.

Under cross-examination by the deputy district attorney in Los Angeles Superior Court, Shaheen said that he had told police that Taweel had problems with his uncle. He also said it was possible that he told police that for a woman to live with an unmarried man was an affront to her parents in Syrian culture.

Defense attorney Betty Alice Bridgers told jurors on Wednesday that Tawil, who is charged with first-degree murder, is a Christian, and that "honor killings" are not part of his culture.

She said the prosecution's evidence of blood specks found on a wall and a rug at Tawil's Burbank apartment were not enough to convict him, given that Taweel frequently visited his uncle's home and even had lived there.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution had rested its case against Tawil with testimony from Juan Carrillo, a deputy medical examiner from the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

Carrillo said that the exact cause of Taweel's death could not be determined. Some injuries, however, appeared to have occurred before Taweel died, including an incision in his leg and a broken ankle.

There also were marks indicating that a rope had been tied beneath Taweel's buttocks and might have been used to drag his body, Carrillo said.

The prosecution has presented witnesses who described familial tension over a daughter's attempts at independence and frequent running away from home.

The daughter, Vilma Tawil, 23, testified last week that she had sought shelter with her cousin because of problems with her mother.

The defense will resume testimony today.

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