6 Ft. Tall Muslim Exec. Beheads Wife, Makes Battered-Spouse Defense

Worth Reading The founder of an Islam-oriented television station who is accused of beheading his wife was abused by her for years, according to his lawyer, who said Friday he will pursue a defense combining that justification as well as psychiatric claims.

Defense attorneys' claims that Muzzammil Hassan was victimized by his wife drew a blunt response from District Attorney Frank Sedita after a hearing Friday.

"He chopped her head off," Sedita said. "He chopped her head off. That's all I have to say about Mr. Hassan's apparent defense that he was a battered spouse."

Hassan, 45, is charged with one count of second-degree murder in the Feb. 12 death of 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan at the offices of Bridges TV, the station the Pakistan-born couple established in 2004 to counter negative stereotypes of Muslims.

During Friday's hearing, Hassan fired the attorney who has been representing him for nearly a year and replaced him with a lawyer who promised "a revolutionary defense" at the March trial.

"The spouse was the dominant figure in this relationship," attorney Frank Bogulski said outside the courtroom. "He was the victim. She was verbally abusive. She had humiliated him."

Nancy Sanders, a former news director at Bridges TV, was skeptical of the abuse claim, noting the stocky Hassan stood over 6 feet tall and "filled a doorway," while Aasiya was slender and several inches shorter.

"I never ever heard her disparage him in the workplace at all," Sanders said. "It just did not seem to be in her nature. She was very gentle."

Bogulski's strategy differs slightly from that of Hassan's previous attorney, James Harrington, who had outlined a psychiatric defense claiming Hassan had experienced extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the killing.

But any psychiatric defense was placed in jeopardy Friday when the judge granted Assistant District Attorney Colleen Curtin Gable's request to bar such claims because the defense had taken too long to reveal its strategy.

Erie County Judge Thomas Franczyk left the door open for Bogulski to file motions seeking to have a psychiatric defense reinstated.

Hassan was served with divorce papers a week before his wife's decapitated body was found at the offices of their television station in Orchard Park, the Buffalo suburb where the couple also lived with their two small children and Muzzammil's two teenagers from a previous marriage.

Hassan was arrested after walking into the Orchard Park police station Feb. 12 and telling officers his wife was dead.

The way she died led the state president of the National Organization for Women, Marcia Pappas, and others to label Aasiya Hassan's death an "honor killng," which Pappas said appeared to be rooted in Muslim notions about women's subordination to men. Harrington dismissed the theory early on and domestic violence advocates cautioned against shifting attention from the universal issue of violence against women.