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From 1991: Parents guilty in murder of daughter

From 1991: Parents guilty in murder of daughter

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A St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated less than four hours Friday before finding Zein Isa and his wife, Maria, guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing of their youngest daughter.

The Isas stared straight ahead, not looking at each other, as the court clerk read the verdicts. The only other sounds in the crowded courtroom were of translators whispering the verdicts into the Isas' ears. Zein Isa (pronounced Zane EYEsa), 60, is Palestinian and a naturalized U.S. citizen; his wife, 48, is Brazilian.

They said nothing as deputies led them away. The jurors recessed to hear further testimony before deciding whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.

Outside the courtroom, another of the Isas' daughters, Soraia Salem, said her sister, Tina Isa, 16, ''didn't die by her father's hand. The system killed her.

''She's gone now. She's not coming back. She don't need nobody to defend her. God will defend her if he wants to.''

Zein Isa's lawyer, Daniel P. Reardon Jr., declined to discuss the verdicts.

The prosecutor, Assistant Circuit Attorney Dee Joyce-Hayes, said she was pleased but added she had been concerned that jurors might have found Maria Isa guilty of the less serious crime of second-degree murder.

Her lawyer, Charles M. Shaw, had contended that Maria sided with Tina in a growing family rift. The mother tried to protect Tina when Zein Isa plunged a knife into the girl's chest on Nov. 6, 1989, at the family's South Side apartment, Shaw said.

Amir Darwish of Chicago, a son-in-law of Zein Isa, said he was distressed by the convictions.

''I think all the facts were not on the table for the jury in this case, '' he said.

The prosecution's most important evidence was a secretly made tape- recording of the murder. Seven minutes of it was filled with Tina's shrieks as she was being stabbed. Some jurors cried when the tape was played for them on Wednesday.

But they asked to hear the tape Friday for a second time, and sat grim-faced and alone in the locked courtroom, listening to the tape over headphones.

Closing arguments earlier Friday drew a standing-room crowd to the courtroom of Judge Charles A. Shaw.

In her final argument to the jury, Joyce-Hayes said, ''I can't think of any other way to describe this incident other than as a blood sacrifice.''

She said the Isas believed the only way to ''cleanse'' the family was through Tina's blood. ''They assassinated her,'' the prosecutor said.

But she rejected the notion that the murder was related to Zein Isa's Islamic faith.

''Many bad things have been done in the name of the Christian religion and in the name of Islam,'' she said. ''We are not here to blame Islam or Islamic culture.

''We're here to blame these people, ' said Joyce-Hayes, gesturing toward the defendants.

Shaw, the defense lawyer, indicated that the stabbing had resulted in part from a clash of Zein Isa's Middle Eastern upbringing, and that of his wife, who is Catholic.

''The parable goes that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,'' he said. ''But they did meet, 20 to 25 years ago, when Maria Isa gave herself to this man.''

Shaw said that Zein Isa had complained to his other daughters that his wife was ''overly protective'' of Tina. And against his wishes, Maria Isa promised Tina a trip to Paris to learn French.

The prosecution's contention that Maria Isa took part in the killing was ''fantasy,'' Shaw said. He added that Maria Isa was guilty of nothing ''but being married to Zein Isa.''

On Friday, Joyce-Hayes scoffed at that version of the killing, noting that ''Tina was a strong, vigorous young woman'' about the same size as her father.

She referred to medical testimony that showed Tina would have to have been nearly motionless to sustain the closely spaced stab wounds, and insisted that Maria Isa, who weighs more than 200 pounds, helped pin the struggling girl to the floor so that Zein Isa could stab her.

Tina was killed minutes after she arrived home, at 3759 Delor Street, from her first night working at a Wendy's restaurant.

Zein Isa testified Thursday that he killed Tina after she demanded $5,000 and came at him with a knife.

The killing was captured by electronic ''bugs'' planted in the apartment by the FBI. The Post-Dispatch reported last year that the secretly placed microphones were part of an FBI investigation into whether Zein Isa was involved with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Federal authorities have refused to discuss the investigation. Authorities have said no one was listening to the bugs when Tina was killed.

Joyce-Hayes said she learned of the tapes unofficially about a week after the killing. Only months later did the FBI declassify the tapes for use in the murder trial, said Joyce-Hayes, adding she sought no more information about the Isas than she needed to prosecute them for murder.

''I know what I need to know to prosecute this matter, and beyond that I don't need to know,'' she said Thursday evening.

Joyce-Hayes said she had been unable to look at the jurors as they heard the murder tape for the first time on Wednesday.

''It would almost be like going to a funeral and staring at the family to see who was crying,'' she said.

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