A businessman was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1992 slaying of his 17-year-old wife, who prosecutors say was shot by a hired hit man in La Mirada.
Morrad Ghonim, 43, was convicted by a Norwalk jury last month of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife, Vicki. The victim was shot in the couple’s car in Creek Park as their 6-month-old son sat in the backseat.
Ghonim, then 19, said the shooting occurred after his wife had exchanged words with a group of people he thought were gang members catcalling her. The shooter — or shooters — he said, had been hiding behind bushes so he never got a look at who had attacked his wife.
The case went unsolved for years until DNA tests on clothing found at the scene found a genetic match to a prison inmate serving time for burglary — Leon Martinez. Initially, Martinez told authorities his dead friend was the gunman, but he eventually confessed to shooting Vicki Ghonim, saying her husband had hired him as a hit man.
During Monday’s hearing, Ghonim — who had relocated to Antigua and married his third wife, a beauty queen, before his arrest in this case — stood to address the judge, demanding a continuance so he could have more time to prove his innocence.
“I didn’t do anything,” Ghonim he said. “I loved her.”
At one point, his hands started to shake and his voice cracked. Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio asked Ghonim to sit and compose himself, before denying his request for a continuance.
Toward the end of the hearing, Martha Guzman — Vicki’s older sister — walked to the lectern to address the court. She closed her eyes and bit her lip, fighting back tears.
“I try to imagine what my sister went through the last minutes of her life,” Guzman said. “I replay it over and over in my mind, how terrified she must've been. Ambushed and trapped between a demon and a monster.”
Then, she spoke directly to her former-brother-in-law: “Morrad, you’re a coward and a monster.”
He didn’t look at her, but swallowed hard.
“We now know the truth and find some peace in that,” Guzman told him. “You’re finally going to be held accountable.”
As the judge read the sentence, Ghonim rested his forehead in his hands and plugged his ears with both of his thumbs.
During Ghonim’s trial, Martinez testified that Ghonim asked him about killing his wife on the first day the two men met through a mutual friend. Martinez said he agreed to kill her and they settled on a price: $20,000.
Martinez also testified that he was high on cocaine the evening of the killing but said he remembered walking up to the window and pulling the gun from his pocket and firing at Vicki’s head from feet away.
As Vicki pleaded with him not to hurt her baby, Martinez said he shot her again and again, eventually shooting her in the eyes. Martinez testified that Ghonim then handed him an envelope of cash, reaching over his wife’s slumped body.
At trial, the defense attacked Martinez’s credibility, noting he had changed some details while on the witness stand.
During previous interviews and court appearances, he’d said that Ghonim had paid him a lot less — once he said $500, another $10,000. When the defense challenged him on the inconsistent statements, Martinez said, “My memory ain’t that good at all.”
Martinez testified after a jury convicted him last year of Vicki’s murder. He agreed to give evidence against Ghonim in exchange for a sentence of 28 years to life in prison instead of life without the possibility of parole.