Ghulam Ayobi

Trial opens for Foothill Farms woman accused of hiring husband's killer

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 14, 2013 - 5:26 pm

Shajia Ayobi told Sacramento police that her husband was killed by two mysterious carjackers who hid in the couple's van as they dined at a friend's house and opened fire after the couple began their drive home.

When police didn't buy that story, she tried another: That it was a CIA operative who, unable to persuade Ayobi to kill her husband, hid in the van and did the job himself.

Neither of those explanations panned out as detectives investigated the Dec. 18, 2011, shooting of Ghulam Ayobi, and his 46-year-old wife now stands accused of first-degree murder.

In opening statements to Sacramento County jurors Monday morning, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene and veteran defense attorney Peter Kmeto appeared to agree that Shajia Ayobi, unhappy in her marriage, paid a classmate to end it for her.

But the attorneys differed dramatically on the woman's culpability. Greene argued that Shajia Ayobi's plot and elaborate cover-up point to premeditation and first-degree murder.

Ayobi "did not want to be married to Ghulam anymore, so she comes up with a plot to kill him," Greene said. "She comes up with a web of lies to cover up the plot."

As a result of her scheme, Ghulam Ayobi, an Afghan native who taught cultural norms to U.S. troops on their way to his native country, ended up with three bullets in his head at the age of 53, Greene said.

The shooting erupted as Shajia Ayobi drove the couple's Kia Sedona minivan from a Natomas home, where they had dined with friends, to their own Foothill Farms residence. After the shooting, Greene said, Shajia Ayobi first called her friend – "the crying, fake; the hysteria, fake" – and then 911 – "again, crying, fake; again, hysteria, fake."

She continued the act by sobbing and banging on the hood when police met her on Norwood Avenue after she steered the van off Interstate 80, he said. She then began to spin her "web of lies," Greene said, one of many times he repeated the phrase.

Kmeto instead attributed the killing to years of abuse and suggested it could be viewed as self-defense.

He acknowledged Shajia Ayobi's two "partially false" statements to police. But inject one character into the story – suspected gunman Jake Clark, whose name surfaced publicly for the first time Monday – and suddenly "a lot of it is true," Kmeto said.

Kmeto described the Ayobis as "broken" people, whose demise came as the result of suffering in their native Afghanistan.

As a soldier there, Ghulam Ayobi was taken hostage by Soviet forces and tortured. Kmeto said Ayobi "came out a different man," one who was paranoid, bipolar and violent.

Before her marriage to Ghulam was arranged, Shajia Ayobi and her family had been brutalized by soldiers. He said his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the countless atrocities she suffered and witnessed.

Kmeto argued that as Ghulam's wife, Shajia Ayobi and the couple's three children endured violent outbursts and threats of death. She kept it secret, her attorney said, because of cultural pressures.

Her mounting fear drove her to pay Clark, a classmate in Shajia Ayobi's criminal justice program at Kaplan College, $5,000 to kill him, Kmeto argued.

"Was she making this stuff up or did she honestly … believe she and her children were in imminent danger?" Kmeto asked. "It's a tragic case. The real issue is not who did it but what was in Shajia Ayobi's mind when it happened."

Kmeto indicated that Clark, 21, will testify. Sacramento police arrested Clark in connection with the case last month; he has been charged with one count of murder in a separate criminal filing. He is scheduled to appear for a hearing in his case Friday.

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @kim_minugh.

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