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Jury Deadlocks, Mistrial Declared in Mutilation Case

September 13, 2003|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

A jury deadlocked Friday on whether a Syrian immigrant killed and dismembered a nephew for harboring his runaway daughter against his wishes.

Jurors said they agreed on the facts of the case against Fadel Tawil, but could not agree on what conclusions could be reached from them. After four days of deliberation, with the jury split 6 to 6 on whether to convict, Superior Court Judge Bob S. Bowers Jr. declared a mistrial.

Prosecutor Karla Kerlin immediately asked for a pretrial hearing Oct. 17 to consider whether to retry Tawil, who remained in jail in lieu of $1-million bail.

The 65-year-old Burbank man was charged with first-degree murder after the partial remains of his nephew, Hilal Taweel, 35, were found at a Sun Valley recycling plant on Jan. 2, 1999.

Because only Taweel's lower torso and left leg were found, authorities were unable to determine how he was killed. Where he was dismembered has also remained a mystery. The defense attorney said her client was not satisfied with the jury's indecision.

"I couldn't characterize it as relief when your client believes they're innocent," attorney Betty Alice Bridgers said. "I believe strongly and always have that he's an innocent person."

It was a sentiment echoed by Tawil's son.

"My dad is innocent," said Wael Tawil, 31. "We're going to keep working to prove he's innocent.... I cannot say this is a victory."

Kerlin presented evidence to show that specks of Taweel's blood were found at his uncle's Burbank apartment. She argued that Tawil killed his nephew because the younger man repeatedly took in his then-teenage daughter Vilma Tawil when she ran away from home.

The daughter testified that her father had slapped her cousin the first time she was found at his house in August 1998 and asked Taweel how he could disrespect his family.

Bridgers repeatedly raised questions about her client's ability to kill his nephew and dispose of his body without leaving more evidence. She pointed out that the nephew was a frequent visitor at his uncle's home and that the small drops of blood found on a wall were not necessarily the marks of a slaying.

Vilma Tawil testified that she looked up to her cousin and their relationship was one of "brotherhood." Kerlin had argued that Fadel Tawil was greatly offended because he thought his nephew was encouraging his daughter's growing independent streak.

A 23-year-old woman on the jury said she voted against conviction because she was swayed in part by the defense's argument that the trace amounts of blood were too small to belong to a gruesome killing and that Taweel could have left them on one of many visits to his uncle's home.

The juror, who declined to give her name, also said that a defense witness testified that Taweel had talked about being threatened by someone else, which raised doubts about who might have killed him.

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