Jake Clark met Shajia Ayobi in his ethics class at Kaplan College where the two criminal justice students teamed up on a project about their moral values, and it was while they were out on a lunch break, Clark testified, that she offered him $10,000 to kill her husband.
“Sha,” as he called her, has since been convicted of murder in the Dec. 18, 2011, shooting death of her husband, Ghulam Ayobi, 53, an Afghan émigré like herself and a cultural sensitivity consultant for the U.S. military.
Now it’s Clark, 21, who is on trial for murder in Sacramento Superior Court, in the killing to which Mrs. Ayobi, 48, admitted, but unsuccessfully tried to explain away to another jury last year as the justifiable result of a post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the domestic abuses by her husband.
Police and prosecutors aren’t completely sure who pulled the trigger on the head shot that ended the husband’s life. Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene argued last year he thought it was the wife. The criminal complaint filed on Clark instead identifies him as the one who discharged the handgun in the killing that Shajia Ayobi at first tried to pass off to investigators as the work of a carjacker who was waiting in their Kia Sedona van when they left a dinner party in North Natomas.
Clark tried to make the case in two days of testimony that he had nothing to do with it. At the end of his appearance on the witness stand Wednesday, both the defense and prosecution rested. Prosecutor Greene and defense attorney Russell W. Miller are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments on Monday in front of Judge Greta Curtis Fall.
In Clark’s taped interviews with Sacramento police that were played in court for his jury, he told detectives he would “share stories” about his criminal past with his fellow students around the campus at Kaplan, a career technical and vocational school on Watt Avenue. His reputation as somebody who knew his way around the other side of the law, he said, came to the attention of the woman in the program who, it turned out, was in the market for a hit man.
Clark appeared calm during his testimony, telling jurors under questioning from Miller about how he and Shajia Ayobi were in the midst of their morals project when she invited him to lunch at the nearby Wendy’s three days before the murder and said to him during their fast-food meal, “I need some help taking care of somebody.”
Shajia Ayobi identified the target as a friend’s husband who she said had been beating and sexually abusing his daughter, Clark testified. In the old country, authorities beheaded these kinds of molesters, Clark said Ayobi told him. He testified that she did not trust the U.S. system of justice to deal harshly enough with such behavior.
“Sha, I can’t help you at this time,” Clark testified he told Ayobi. “I can’t help you on this matter.”
He said he brushed her off again when she offered to pay him the $10,000 for the kill.
“I told her, ‘No, I cannot help you with that,’” Clark testified.
Clark told the jury he reported the offer to a Kaplan College instructor who didn’t take the threat seriously.
The day after the Wendy’s conversation, Clark said Shajia Ayobi showed up at his job at a Chevron gas station in Elk Grove, to try to persuade him again to take on the murder contract. He testified he sent her away with a hug and a gentle admonition.
“Sha, you should rethink this,” Clark said he told her.
On cross-examination, Clark said Ayobi asked if he would at least take some cash to dispose of the murder weapon for her, and that she would be rolling through the roundabout in front of the Woodbridge Apartments on San Juan Road in South Natomas around 11:45 p.m. on Saturday night, Dec. 17. He told the jury he just happened to be doing a drug deal in the neighborhood about that time, and as long as he was in the area, he decided to stroll over to the roundabout.
To his amazement, he said Shajia Ayobi sped into the traffic circle. He said she stopped, opened the van’s sliding passenger-side door, and that he looked in the front seat and saw the man later identified as Ghulam Ayobi sprawled out and bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head.
“It smelled like (a gun) had just been fired,” Clark testified.
Clark said Shajia Ayobi just as quickly “handed me a bag with the murder weapon in it, with a $100 bill, and said, ‘Thank you.’” He took the bag, he said, and touched the gun while retrieving the money – explaining the presence of his fingerprints on the firearm – and deposited it in a nearby trash can, where police recovered the weapon the next day.
The apartment building is about 1 mile east from where the Ayobis attended a dinner party on Torland Street. It also is nearly 4 miles west of the 3900 block of Norwood Avenue, where Shajia Ayobi called 911 at 12:06 a.m. to report the shooting that she said took place on Interstate 80.
In his cross-examination that took up almost all of Tuesday and extended into most of Wednesday morning, Greene guided Clark through three separate statements the defendant gave to police, battering him on the numerous omissions that did not make it into his direct testimony and on the inconsistencies between his courtroom statements and what he told detectives.
The deputy DA focused Clark’s attention on the bag with the gun he said Ayobi handed him from the van. The bag had Clark’s DNA in it, Greene said, as well as genetic material from the defendant’s roommate and the roommate’s girlfriend. Clark denied to police the bag was his or that it was ever in his house. He changed up on Wednesday, saying it belonged to his roommate, who he said must have given it to Ayobi.
Clark’s story did not convince Detective Scott MacLafferty, who questioned the defendant the day of his March 20, 2013, arrest, 15 months after the killing.
“You provided Sha with the bag, with the gun that she used to kill her husband, or you were in the car with Sha and and shot her husband,” MacLafferty said, according to the transcript of the interview that Greene showed to the jury. “It’s one of two ways, Jake. All I want is the truth.”
In Shajia Ayobi’s version of events that were not played for the jury, “She says you pulled the trigger,” MacLafferty told Clark.
There also was the matter of a considerable sum of money Clark came into in the days after the killing – somewhere in the area of $10,000, he said. The amount corresponds to Shajia Ayobi’s bank records that showed her withdrawing $5,000 from her Wells Fargo account on Nov. 22, 2011, and another $5,000 on Dec. 16, 2011, according to testimony at trial.
Clark testified Wednesday he got the money in a marijuana deal. He said he spent $2,500 of it on a new car.
Phone records showed Shajia Ayobi sent Clark a text asking for his address two days before the killing
It probably had something to do with the ethics assignment, Clark testified.
In the end, “I failed that class,” he told the jury.