Around 9 p.m. on July 23, 1992, 19-year-old Morrad Ghonim sped through a red light in Los Angeles County, catching the eye of a nearby California Highway Patrol officer.
When the officer pulled Ghonim over, he was met with a gruesome sight — sitting in the passenger seat was the man’s 17-year-old wife, Vicky Ghonim, covered in blood. Her head was collapsed on his lap, and Morrad was sobbing uncontrollably. Their 6-month-old baby, Michael Ghonim, was in the backseat unharmed.
The officer noticed Vicky was not breathing and took her out of the car to perform CPR, but she was soon pronounced dead at the scene, according to “A Wedding and a Murder.”
Meanwhile, Morrad told authorities they had had been ambushed by a group of gang members who shot Vicky, and that he had been frantically searching for a hospital when he blew through the traffic light.
The shooting occurred while the young family was attempting to flee Creek Park in their car, according to Morrad. Vicky was gunned down through the passenger side window, and Morrad said the shooter was approximately 25 to 50 yards away.
An autopsy later revealed Vicky had been shot five times with .22 caliber weapon.
Investigators then made their way to the La Mirada park to canvass the parking lot and surrounding area for evidence, but they found no expended cartridges, bullets or bullet fragments. They were, however, able to interview several witnesses who saw a man running away from the crime scene.
He was described as a “very skinny male Hispanic” wearing a Chicago White Sox sweatshirt, and the witnesses told authorities he had taken off his clothes and stashed them under a bush, which authorities located and collected as evidence.
Back at the station, Morrad agreed to gunshot residue test, and it came back negative.
While an anonymous tip came in naming two gang members in connection to the murder, Morrad and the park witnesses were unable to identify anyone in a photo array. With little evidence and virtually no leads, the case went cold, and it would not be until 2006 that investigators got their first big break.
Due to a new grant authorizing forensic testing on the evidence, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department could submit the clothing gathered at the park for DNA analysis. Three years later, they got a hit — the biological identifiers belonged to a man named Leon Martinez, Sgt. Howard Cooper told “A Wedding and a Murder.”
Investigators also came across an old phone tip inside one of the case files from a woman who claimed to know details about the shooting, naming Leon Martinez as the one who killed Vicky.
After tracking down the tipster, Barbara Woody, she reluctantly told authorities that Martinez had been hired by Morrad to murder the young newlywed. One of Woody’s daughters, Selena Woody, was dating Martinez at the time. She told investigators he had admitted to shooting Vicky, and that if she told anyone, he would kill her and her entire family.
Selena’s sister, Deanna Woody, corroborated the story and said she personally saw Martinez and Morrad talking to each other on her street days before the murder.
Deanna ended up chatting with Morrad about her child, who needed a heart transplant, and said she was worried about the operation. Morrad reassured Deanna, telling her that he too had had a heart operation as a child and survived.
Morrad, who had married his second wife in the years following Vicky’s death, became the investigation’s main person of interest, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department asked him to revisit the crime scene to go through the murder again for authorities.
Morrad claimed he could not recall specifics of the night or remember what any of the alleged gang members looked like. The autopsy report, however, told a different story.
Vicky’s gunshot wounds showed that the weapon had been fired “at close range, maybe even contact,” former Sgt. Mitch Loman told “A Wedding and a Murder.”
“Somebody would have to have the gun inside the car with the gun pointing down, which makes sense if the shooter’s standing outside the car window, firing the weapon into the car,” Sgt. Loman said.
In October 2010, investigators arrested both Morrad and Martinez for murder. Morrah was taken into custody after he dropped off his son Michael, now 18, at school, and Martinez, who was already in prison for an unrelated crime, was transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail.
While they ultimately did not have enough evidence to hold Morrad, Martinez was charged with capital murder. Martinez called his wife, Eva Martinez, from jail and asked her to intimidate Selena Woody against testifying.
Both Eva and Leon were charged with dissuading a witness, and Eva pleaded guilty, landing her three years of probation and 180 days in jail. Leon’s trial began four years later. The jury convicted him of dissuading a witness, but they were hung on the murder charge.
He was retried the following year and ultimately found guilty. Facing life without the possibility of parole, Leon struck a post-conviction plea agreement with the prosecution, agreeing to provide details of the murder plot to investigators.
Leon testified that Morrad approached him in 1992 and offered to pay him to murder his wife. Leon said he agreed, and the following day, he waited for the couple at Creek Park. When they parked, Leon approached their car and fired multiple rounds into Vicky.
Leon was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for murder, and three years for dissuading a witness.
With Leon’s confession, authorities tracked down Morrad, who was living on the island of Antigua with his third wife, a former Ms. Dominica. They also spoke to his ex-wife from his second marriage, Nisreen Alfaleh.
Alfaleh told investigators that their marriage had been a disaster, and that when she threatened to divorce him, he said, “If you try to get a divorce from me, I’ll do to you what I did to the other. It may cost me more than $500 now, but it’ll be worth it,” according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Robert L. Villa.
Collaborating with local Antigua police, the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Office had Morrad deported on homicide charges in April 2015. He opted out of testifying. Leon was the prosecution’s star witness, and Alfaleh also testified, telling the jury about her ex-husband's veiled threat and confirming that he had a scar from a childhood heart surgery.
Investigators theorized Morrad had Vicky killed to get back in the good graces of his devout Muslim parents, who had disowned Morrad after he married Vicky, a Catholic.
In 2016, Morrad was found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances of lying in wait and murder for financial gain. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
For more on this story, watch “A Wedding And A Murder,” Thursdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
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