For nearly four days, Shajia Ayobi's jury struggled with the meaning of "imminence" and whether it applied to the danger she said she feared from her husband.
Wednesday afternoon, the panel decided that even if she had been battered and abused by Ghulam Rabani Ayobi, as she testified, he did not present an immediate threat to her the night she either killed him or had him killed.
As a result, they convicted Ayobi, 46, of first-degree murder in the Dec. 18, 2011, shooting death of her husband, who was 53.
"There was a lot of talk about definitions," juror Reg Orbeta told reporters afterward.
Twice, the jury sent notes to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Helena R. Gweon to ask for a further meaning to the word "imminent." Twice, the judge told them to apply their ordinary, everyday understanding.
Then, to the delight of Ghulam Ayobi's side of the family, the jury worked its way through the law and arrived at the conclusion that there was no clear and present danger to Shajia Ayobi when her husband was shot in their car while he laid his head back in rest.
"This is just one of the judgments," Ghulam Ayobi's niece, Ferishta Kulaly, said of the jury's verdict. "We believe that there is another judgment coming up, and hopefully it will be more severe than this one."
The next judgment, Kulaly said, will be rendered "when she exits this world, in her next life She has to face (God), too, and explain to him what she did to herself, her family, the kids, the mom, the community for selfish reasons."
Gweon scheduled for June 14 her application of the worldly consequences for the murder conviction. Ayobi is facing a term of 25 years to life in prison.
Although the jury found Ayobi guilty of murder, it did not have enough evidence to conclude that she pulled the trigger in her husband's killing.
Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene argued that she was in fact the shooter. His office, however, also has charged a second defendant in the case, a criminal justice classmate of Ayobi's at Kaplan College identified as Jake Clark, 30.
In a jailhouse interview, Clark said Ayobi offered him $500 to kill her husband. He said he refused the offer and "flat-out" had nothing to do with the killing. Clark has yet to enter a plea. His next court date is scheduled for May 17.
On Tuesday, the jury declared itself at an impasse in its deliberations, but Gweon ordered the members of the panel to resume their discussions. The jurors reached their verdict about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Orbeta said the panel had been split 10-2 in favor of conviction when the judge ordered jurors back into the deliberation room.
Jury foreman Matthew Smalley said it was "careful deliberation of the facts" that produced the eventual unanimous decision.
Asked what evidence was most decisive, Smalley said, "the testimony of the defendant."
Ayobi spent two days on the stand, and although the panel mostly found her lacking in credibility, Smalley said her admission that she contracted out the killing of her husband severely damaged her cause.
Smalley said "we felt there was compelling evidence" to corroborate Ayobi's testimony that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ayobi testified it resulted from her early childhood experiences, from living in Afghanistan during the Soviet war of the early 1980s and from the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of the husband she murdered.
"The PTSD was certainly a factor," Smalley said. "But we weren't able to conclude it was the overriding factor."
Greene, the prosecutor, said in his closing arguments that Ayobi stood to collect on a $285,000 life insurance policy if her husband died. The deputy DA also said she had other motives to murder, that she stood to gain her freedom from a bad marriage without having to endure the cultural stigma of divorce.
Shajia Ayobi first reported to police she and her husband were carjacked coming home from a dinner party in Natomas and that Ghulam Ayobi was shot and killed by the robber who had hidden in the back seat of their car.
She later changed her story to say the CIA had her husband killed, before she finally admitted that she did it but under the duress of PTSD.
Greene declined to comment on the verdict.
Defense attorney Pete Kmeto argued for an acquittal on the basis of self-defense. Short of that, he said jurors also had the option of convicting her of voluntary manslaughter under a theory of imperfect self-defense.
"Obviously we're disappointed," Kmeto said in an interview after the verdict. "What this woman went through in her life, and the domestic violence that occurred all your sympathies go to her."
Kmeto said jurors told him that the level of planning that went into the killing made it impossible for them to find that she acted out of a fear of imminent harm.
"They struggled mightily," Kmeto said of the jury. "It was a very emotional thing for them. They couldn't go to sleep. They stayed up all night. They became tearful in their deliberations. I'm convinced these people did the best they could given the facts and the law."
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.