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Suspect in brutal murder of Muslim teen Nabra Hassanen pleads guilty

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 5, 2018 - 12:47:09 PM

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Mahmoud Hassanen Aboras, father of Nabra Hassanen, left, sits with family as he listens to speakers June 21, 2017, in Reston, Va., during a vigil in honor of Nabra, who was killed over the weekend. Islamic leaders questioned Virginia detectives' insistence that the beating death of Nabra appears to have been a case of road rage, saying the attack looked all too much like a hate crime. Photo: AP Photo/Steve Helber

Darwin Martinez Torres pleaded guilty to capital murder, rape and other counts in the death of 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen in a case that reached national attention for its sheer brutality.  He will be sentenced in March 2019 to life without parole.  This was part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that allows him to avoid the death penalty.
Nabra Hassanen

“We reached this plea agreement after lengthy consultation with the Hassanen family, and their attorneys.  We were willing to try the case however, it’s important to understand capital litigation is very complex,” Raymond F. Morrow, Fairfax County Prosecutor told media at a press conferene after the hearing. Mr. Martinez Torres pleaded guilty Nov. 28. 

“The trial would have taken months and the appeals would have gone on for at least a decade and the family wanted some closure to put this to an end and go about the rest of their lives honoring Nabra’s memory.  You just want to know why, but sometimes people just do some wicked and evil things.  I don’t know if we will ever know in this life.  This crime stood out as just a brutal crime,” added Mr. Morrow. 

The family believes this was a hate crime because Nabra was Muslim even though authorities said the investigation to date has not produced any evidence to suggest that it was. The investigation into whether or not it was a hate crime continues.

A rare aspect of the plea agreement allows the Hassanen family to question Mr. Martinez Torres about the crime.  No time frame has been set for this questioning to take place. Mr. Morrow was asked if he negotiated this type of agreement for a family before. 

“Yes, rarely,” he said.  “This was such a random attack on such a lovely person, practicing her faith.  It was just shocking.  It was important to the Hassanens to include that in the agreement so we worked to put it in there.  I hope this will bring them some information.  I’ve never seen a good murder but this one’s worse than most.”

Mr. Martinez Torres’ lawyer, Joseph Flood, told media that his client is remoseful for what happened, that there was no bias involved and that evaluations show that Mr. Martinez Torres has an IQ of only 68 or less which renders him probably intellectually disabled.  Mr. Flood also said his client suggested the family could ask him about the murder.

His limited intellectual ability was also a concern for the prosecutor to work out a plea deal.

“That would have been a hotly litigated issue in the case,” Mr. Murrow said. “Under current law, and for good reason, it’s not legal to give the death penalty to someone that is intellectually disabled.  That’s the defense side, that’s their expert.  Had the case gone to trial we would have gotten an independent expert.  If it was true, I would not pursue a death penalty against someone that was intellectually disabled.”

For the first time, prosecutors laid out the chilling details of the crime that night.  Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Lingan told the story.  Mr. Martinez Torres drank 13-16 alcoholic drinks and smoked synthetic marijuana. 

Nabra and her group of friends left the ADAMS Center around 3:40 a.m. on June 18, 2017. It was during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of prayer and fasting. The teens headed to a local restaurant to eat their pre-dawn meal before that day’s fasting. 

After eating, they were on their way back to the mosque when they were approached by Mr. Martinez Torres.  He pulled behind one of the teens who was on the bike then provoked an argument.  The teens ran away into a bowling alley parking lot to escape and he followed.

Mr. Martinez Torres exited his car carrying a baseball bat, Mr. Lingan explained.  The teens literally ran for their lives.  But Nabra was in the back of the group and Mr. Martinez Torres caught her.  That’s when one of the teens heard the bat hitting Nabra’s head.

When one of the teens looked back, she was lying on the ground.  The teens ran back to the masjid.  The police were called and they eventually found Mr. Martinez Torres in his car driving on a road near the parking lot.

He told detectives, “everything went out of control” when he caught Nabra.  He admitted hitting her with the bat and dragging her to his car.  He drove her near his apartment, she was unconscious but still alive.  He removed her pants and sexually assaulted her.  Nabra’s body was found floating in a pond.  The medical examiner determined that her skull was fractured, plus her neck and arm were broken.

This murder devastated a close-knit Muslim community right outside of Washington, D.C.  Thousands attended Nabra’s funeral and others created tributes in her memory.

“Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with Nabra’s family. The guilty sentence cannot bring Nabra back, but we hope her family finds some degree of solace in this outcome. She was a light to her community and will not be forgotten,” Jumana, who just goes by that name of Pious Projects of America told The Final Call.

She heard about what happened and reached out to the family through a cousin.  Her organization, Pious Projects worked with Nabra’s father to set up an online campaign to raise $25,000 to build seven wells and a mosque in Nabra Hassanen’s name in Mali, Africa. Donors exceeded that goal and raised $45,000.

“It broke my heart to hear about this,” Rahman Khan, a federal government worker from Falls Church, Va. told The Final Call.  It made me be extra careful with my children in a community I thought was safe.  I’m glad he pleaded guilty and this is over.  A trial would have dragged it out for a long time.  This community needs to heal.  Insha’Allah (God-Willing) now we can.”

“Nabra will be remembered as a beautiful girl that graced this world.  May Allah bless her family with peace and consolation.  Death is a very painful thing regardless.  I’m glad this is over now.”

Nabra’s father, Mahmoud Hassanen, is from Egypt. He spoke emotionally at the press conference through interpreter Nihad Awad, the executive director of CAIR, (Council of American Islamic Relations). “I surrender my daughter’s case to Allah, the Almighty.  I hope and consider her to be a martyr in the eyes of God,” said Mr. Hassanen.

“I remember her every day. Every day, I miss her.  With all my heart. But what am I to do?  Nabra is not coming back to me.  I never, ever forget her.” Mr. Awad thanked the prosecutor on behalf of the family for “doing a very good job.”

“Nabra will never be forgotton by the Fairfax community who stood for her family to make sure justice was served.  It was not easy for Mr. Mahmoud to sit and listen to what happened to his daughter on that fateful early morning.  It was painful for all of us.”