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The trial of Muzzammil Hassan: Day 5

BUFFALO -- The murder trial of Muzzammil "Mo" Hassan continues today in Erie County Court.

Hassan, 46, is accused of the stabbing and beheading death of his wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan. Orchard Park police have said Hassan turned himself in and confessed to the killing shortly after the Feb. 12, 2009, death.

Judge Thomas P. Franczyk on Monday allowed Hassan to represent himself, with defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz at his side.

The News will follow developments in today's court proceedings below:

5:50 p.m.: Schwartz told reporters outside the courtroom tonight that Hassan appears to be getting the points he wants to convey across as he cross examines witnesses.

"It does seem to be going a little bit smoother," Schwartz said. "Mr. Hassan is getting his point across, and there is a lot of information he wants to get across, and he is having the chance to do that."

Some lines of questioning in the courtroom, Schwartz said, are more complicated than others.

"It's just the nature of questioning," Schwartz said.

Listen to Schwartz speak to reporters in this audio clip:

***

5 p.m.: The judge has dismissed the jury for the evening. Hassan has asked to continue his cross examination of Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz in the morning.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m.

***

4:54 p.m.: Hassan has occasionally injected comments into his cross-examination questions.

As Hassan questioned Wehrfritz about the night Hassan confessed at Orchard Park Police Headquarters, Hassan asked about the conversation the two had.

"Did you offer me a cup of coffee?" Hassan asked.

"I may have," Wehrfritz said.

"Still waiting," Hassan replied.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable objected to the question, which the judge sustained.

***

4:49 p.m.: Hassan began his cross-examination of Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz by asking whether Hassan was respectful while at the police station on Feb. 12, 2009.

Wehrfritz said he was.

The lieutenant said he had given Hassan a phone book to look for attorneys while Hassan waited at the station.

Hassan also asked Wehrfritz whether he found an e-mail from Aasiya Hassan to Hassan that included a death threat when he searched the hotel room at the Clarion and Bridges TV.

"No, I did not," Wehrfritz said.

***

4:37 p.m.: Hassan had life insurance paperwork for Aasiya Hassan in the trunk of his Mercedes when he parked it at the Orchard Park Police Headquarters the night of her death.

The trunk also included a note pad, testified Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz.

***

4:25 p.m.: Investigators who searched a room at the Clarion Hotel in Hamburg the day after Aasiya Hassan's murder found travel itineraries and bank documents.

The bank papers showed a $90,000 deposit made Feb. 10, 2009, into an account held by Hassan, Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz testified. 

They also found Aasiya Hassan's checkbook, Hassan's checkbook and a briefcase with divorce paperwork, Wehrfritz said. The passports of Hassan and his oldest son were also in the room, Wehrfritz said.

The hotel room is where Hassan directed investigators to get his sleep apnea machine and medication after he was arrested.

***

4:16 p.m.: Hassan had a handwritten list on him while he waited at Orchard Park Police Headquarters after turning himself in the night of Aasiya Hassan's death, Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz said.

The list included the names of attorneys, his children and other people, as well as phone numbers, places and items.

Words that appeared on the paper included "Erie County Holding Center," "home equity," "power of attorney," "life insurance" and other words.

Wehrfritz said he made a photocopy of the list and then returned it to Hassan. The list, which also had some words written in a foreign language, was shown to jurors.

"Does this appear to be a list the defendant was making while he was at the police station?" prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable asked.

"Yes," Wehrfritz replied.

***

4 p.m.: The jurors have returned and the prosecution is preparing to call its next witness, Orchard Park Police Lt. Eugene "Joe" Wehrfritz.

***

3:45 p.m.: The jurors have taken a 15-minute break.

***

3:40 p.m: Hassan, during his cross examination of Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster, asked McMaster whether he could determine who started a fight by looking at a bruise or a wound.

"Does a picture of a wound tell you what the argument was about?" Hassan asked, to an objection of the prosecutor.

"No, it does not," McMaster replied.

Hassan has also asked McMaster about Hassan's demeanor on the night he turned himself into Orchard Park Police Headquarters. McMaster has previously testified that Hassan was "calm" and "patient." 

Hassan asked McMaster to say whether Hassan had asked about his children that night. McMaster said he had.

Franczyk stopped the line of questioning about Hassan's demeanor when Hassan asked whether he appeared "relieved."

"That's asking him to delve a little bit too deeply into the operation of your mind at that point," Franczyk said.  

***

3:22 p.m.: Hassan, in his cross-examination of Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster, has tried several line of questions in which he has asked the detective what people told him about Aasiya Hassan.

Franczyk has stopped McMaster from answering most of the questions.

One of the questions -- "Have you become aware that Aasiya had killed her brother?" -- elicited a quiet gasp from several spectators in the galley. There has been no indication that is the case.

Hassan also asked whether McMaster learned that Aasiya Hassan was "dominant and forceful."

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable has called many of the questions "back-door hearsay."

***

3:15 p.m.: Hassan has opened his cross-examination of Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster with questions about McMaster's knowledge of domestic violence incidents.

He has asked McMaster how many cases he has handled and whether he believes complainants in those cases are typically men or women.

"So based on your experience as a law enforcement officer, how would you characterize the typical nature of an abuser?" Hassan asked.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable has objected to much of the line of questioning.

Franczyk warned Hassan that he would need to tie the questions into the case. 

***

3:02 p.m.: Enhanced images from surveillance video of the Bridges TV building of the night Aasiya Hassan was killed show movement in the hallway, as well as an objecting being raised in the air.

Prosecutors have shown jurors several different views of the same sequence that have been enhanced in different ways to better show the attack, which took place in a dark hallway.

***

2:49 p.m.: Survelliance video enhanced by the State Police shows a figure in the back of the Bridges TV building after Aasiya Hassan had been killed.

The figure, identified as Hassan by Orchard Park Police Lt. Patrick McMaster, then turns a light on and then off in the front office of the building.

It then shows Hassan exiting the building.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable said she is now going to play a shorter sequence from the video that focuses on the attack on Aasiya Hassan. Different types of video filters were used on that portion to enhance it, McMaster said.

***

2:35 p.m.: The courtroom is silent as prosecutors play surveillance video of the attack that had been enhanced by State Police to better show Hassan.

The black-and-white video is dark with a circle that has been spotlighted where a man appears. Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster identified the man as Hassan.

The video, which was previously shown in its original state to the jurors, shows Hassan entering the front office, pacing back and forth and looking out a window before the attack.

It also shows Hassan checking his cell phone as he waited, McMaster said.

In the courtroom, Hassan is quietly talking to his defense attorney and taking notes as the video plays. He has occasionally looked at the video.

***

2:25 p.m.: Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster testified that he took surveillance video from the Bridges TV offices to the New York State Police in Albany to be enhanced.

State Police then enhanced the video to spotlight the attack sequence from the night of Aasiya Hassan's death.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable is entering the enhanced video into evidence and preparing to show it to the jurors.

"Other than highlighting or spotlighting that, has it been altered in any way?" Curtin Gable asked.

"No, it has not," McMaster responded. 

***

2:13 p.m.: The trial has resumed. Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster is on the stand.

***

12:56  p.m.: Before the trial broke for lunch, Franczyk ruled that Hassan was entitled to documents he requested earlier in the day that are related to a psychiatric evaluation report of Hassan prepared by a doctor.

Schwartz, speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, said the doctor evaluated Hassan at the end of last year. Prosecutors will have to turn over "everything that the doctor had relied upon," Schwartz said.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 2:10 p.m.

***

12:48 p.m.: A search of Aasiya Hassan's 1999 Plymouth Voyager van parked outside of Bridges TV on the night of her death turned up a card with contact information for domestic violence advocates and an M&T Bank envelope with 49 $100 bills.

Hassan's son, Michael, testified earlier that his father handed him an M&T bank envelope of cash outside the television station as the son waited in the van for his step-mother. 

The jury has now left the courtroom for lunch.

***

12:32 p.m.: A bandage that was on Hassan's middle finger on the night of his arrest was collected and tested for evidence, Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster said.

The bandage was one of several that Hassan had on his hands, although it appeared he did not have fresh injuries on his hands, McMaster said.

Photographs of the bandages, which appeared between knuckles on his right hand, were shown to jurors.

"Did you notice anywhere on the defendant any fresh injuries?" prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable asked.

"No, I did not," McMaster said.

***

12:21 p.m.: Orchard Park Detective Lt. Patrick McMaster testified that Hassan "seemed very calm" at the police station the night of Aasiya Hassan's death.

McMaster also described Hassan as "patient" that night.

Members of the Orchard Park police have already testified that Hassan arrived at the police station and said he had killed his wife.

"Did he appear shocked or dazed or out of it or anything of that nature?" prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable asked.

"No, he did not," McMaster replied.

Hassan asked officers at the station to get his medication and a sleep apnea machine from a Clarion hotel in Hamburg, McMaster said.

***

12:15 p.m.: Hassan's brief cross-examination of Orchard Park Police Detective John Payne opened with questions about how well Payne knew Aasiya Hassan.

Payne told Hassan he had seen her working at an Orchard Park 7-11 store, which was owned by the Hassans.

"You would see Aasiya frequently at the 7-11?" Hassan asked in a quiet voice. 

"I wouldn't say frequently," Payne replied.

"But from time to time, you would?" Hassan asked.

"I have seen her more than once," Payne replied.

Hassan asked Payne whether Aasiya Hassan had told her she was in counseling. Payne said she had not. 

Another question from Hassan drew a strong objection from Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable: "Are you aware of the fact that Aasiya was diagnosed as abusive?" Franczyk ordered that the question be stricken from the record.

Hassan then wrapped up his questioning by asking Payne whether he recalled where the first light switch was located at the Bridges TV building. 

***

12:06 p.m.: Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable concluded her questioning of Orchard Park Police Detective John Payne with the admission of DNA samples from Aasiya Hassan's body into evidence.

Hassan is now cross-examining Payne.

***

11:55 a.m.: The jury has left for a short break.

***

11:53 a.m.: Hassan had a black briefcase that contained empty boxes for two hunting knives in his Mercedes Benz when he left it at the Orchard Park Police Department on the night of Aasiya Hassan's death.

The briefcase also contained to two sheaths for Buck Knives, as well as a Walmart bag. A receipt for the two knives was in Hassan's car, Orchard Park Police Detective John Payne said.

An earlier witness testified that Hassan purchased the two hunting knives at Walmart on the day of the murder. Store video also showed Hassan buying the knives.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable has shown the items to the jury.

***

11:46 a.m.: Hassan has put forth few objections this morning as Orchard Park Police Detective John Payne unseals evidence taken from the crime scene and from Aasiya Hassan's body.

At several points, Franczyk has asked Hassan if he objects to the evidence being shown. Hassan has quietly replied: "No, your honor."

He lodged one objection when prosecutors showed video surveillance from the Bridges TV building of Aasiya Hassan's attack. The judge allowed the video to continue. 

***

11:40 a.m.: A gray hooded sweatshirt that Aasiya Hassan was wearing on the night of her death is covered in dried blood.

A camisole she was wearing also has numerous cut marks and what appears to be dried blood.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable has shown the sweatshirt, a camisole and a pair of jeans, which also have blood stains, to the jury. 

***

11:30 a.m.: Orchard Park Detective John Payne has unsealed three floor tiles collected from the hallway scene at Bridges TV two days after Aasiya Hassan's murder. 

The tiles are marked with taped scales to show where Aasiya's neck was positioned on the floor when police found her body.

Payne is now unsealing the clothing Aasiya Hassan was wearing at the time of her death. The clothes, which Payne said were sealed after her autopsy, include jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a camisole. 

***

11:20 a.m.: Tiles from the hallway at Bridges TV collected by detectives showed gouges, cuts, blood and hair at the point where the neck of Aasiya's body was positioned on the floor, Orchard Park Detective John Payne said.

Photographs of the tiles before they were removed by investigators were admitted as evidence by the prosecution.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable is now showing the photographs to the jury.

The pictures show spatters and blotches of blood across the floor.

All of the tiles in the hallway were later collected as evidence, Payne said.

***

11:16 a.m.: Orchard Park Detective John Payne has shown the jurors all of the items Aasiya Hassan had in her pockets when detectives found her body.

The items did not include a weapon.

Payne showed the jurors a cell phone, cash, keys, a Visa credit card, an appointment card for Supercuts and two receipts for Tops and HSBC Bank.

"That's the sum total of the items that were in Mrs. Hassan's pockets?" Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Payne said.

Colleen Curtin Gable said she was showing those items so "we can see what is in there and what is not in there."

***

11:06 a.m.: A surveillance video taken from Bridges TV the night of Aasiya's death shows movement in a dark hallway after she enters. 

Shortly after, Orchard Park Detective John Payne said, a portion of Aasiya's body appears on the video in the hallway.

"Certainly less than a minute from when she walked into that hallway, correct?" Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable asked.

"Yes ... 47 seconds," Payne said.

Hassan is seen on the video then taking his brief case and walking out of the Thorn Avenue building. He walks around the building and checks a window. 

After Hassan leaves, the video shows detectives arriving on the scene.

Curtin Gable has fast-forwarded through portions of the video in which no people appear.

The video earlier showed Aasiya arriving in a minivan and unlocking the door at about 5:52 or 5:53 p.m.. She enters the building at about 5:55 p.m., Payne said.  

***

10:51 a.m.: The jury has returned to the courtroom after Hassan, attorneys and Franczyk have finished discussing Hassan's legal requests.

Orchard Park Detective John Payne is now back on the witness stand.

Prosecutor Colleen Curtin Gable is showing the jury black-and-white surveillance video of the Feb. 12, 2009, attack on Aasiya from eight cameras at the Bridges TV office in Orchard Park. The courtroom is nearly silent, aside from Curtin Gable's questions of Payne.

The images appear in small squares played simultaneously on two flat-screen televisions in the courtroom.

Hassan appears in the video entering the building at about 5:22 p.m. with a black bag. He then turns on a light and turns it off, before peering out a window. He also checks his cell phone. The video -- taken of a dark room -- appears grainy. 

Hassan, wearing a long-sleeve shirt, then opens the outside door of the building and checks the lock.

***

10:45 a.m.: Franczyk told Hassan he is concerned that Hassan intends to call an unexpected expert witness for which prosecutors have not been able to prepare.

"I'm not going to allow you to pull somebody out of left field at the last minute," Franczyk said.

Franczyk also told Hassan he does not see a good basis to order anyone in the galley who appear on Hassan's latest witness list out of the courtroom.

*** 

10:40 a.m.: Franczyk told Hassan that he received a letter Monday from a psychologist whom Hassan has said he plans to call as a witness stating that she will not testify on behalf of Hassan.

Hassan insists that the witness, Ana Natasha Cervantes, a Buffalo forensic psychologist, plans to testify on his behalf as an expert witness.

"Since that letter things have changed," Hassan said.

Franczyk said Hassan has told the court and prosecutors "nothing" about who he plans to call if Cervantes and other expert witnesses he has said will testify do not. 

***

10:34 a.m.: Franczyk admonished Hassan for "playing hide and seek" with his proposed psychiatric defense and for failing to detail what strategy he plans to pursue with the prosecutors.

Hassan declined to answer at this point when asked directly by the judge to describe his proposed psychiatric defense.

Hassan has also asked the judge to call a doctor who gave Hassan a personality test. The witness, Franczyk said, is on the prosecution list and is prepared as a rebuttal witness, depending on what defense Hassan pursues.

"Right now, what are you trying to do, co-opt their expert as your own?" Franczyk asked.

***

10:20 a.m.: Hassan is requesting that the judge allow him to obtain letters, depositions and other evidence from prosecutors.

The items include letters Hassan wrote to his children, Michael and Sonia, results of a personality test Hassan took and copies of e-mails Aasiya wrote.

Hassan told the judge the material would "help establish the pattern that we're trying to establish."

"And what pattern is that?" Franczyk asked. 

"Misinformation campaign by Aasiya," Hassan replied.

Hassan has also supplied a new witness list to judge, which includes Franczyk's name, a Buffalo News staff reporter, the prosecutors and District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III. 

Franczyk appears incredulous as to what he and members of the press would testify to in the case.

"So you intend to call me as a witness in the trial to which I'm presiding?" Franczyk asked.

When the judge asked how the proceedings would work if he took the witness stand, Hassan replied: "We'll work out the logistics should I decided to do that."

***

9:55 a.m.: Nearly all the seats are full in Franczyk's courtroom as attorneys and spectators wait for the trial to resume. The judge is hearing arguments in other cases. Neither Hassan nor the jury are in the room.

Read News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan's account of Monday's court proceedings in "Hassan allowed to represent himself at trial."

See The News' entire coverage of the Hassan case, including past stories, audio and vido, here.

--Denise Jewell Gee

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