Courtroom convictions

22dentist_3951The details were numbingly horrible from the start: a 4 year old girl, the subject of a bitter custody battle, witnessed her father gunned down in front of her in a Queens, New York park. Both her parents were doctors and both were immigrants from Russia.

Before long, the mother and her cousin were charged in the 2007 murder and, over the course of the trial, the issue of religion emerged in a way that few could have anticipated. The defendants, who became increasingly devoted to Orthodox Judaism while awaiting trail, refused to appear in court on the Sabbath and laced their defense in religious language.

They were convicted of murder in March and sentenced to life without parole on Tuesday. Today’s New York Times reports that the religious imagery at the sentencing came from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and Confucius. “I didn’t kill nobody in my life,” Mikhail Mallayev told the court.

“I live by the Ten Commandments. You both laugh on that,” he said, accusing the judge and prosecutor in broken English of mocking his piety. “I feel comfortable with myself. I’m good in front of myself and in front of God.”

The judge, Robert J. Hanophy, had his own religious references.

“Mr. Mallayev, you took the 20,000 pieces of silver to murder Dr. Malakov,” the judge said, referring to the $20,000 that prosecutors say Dr. Borukhova paid for the killing. “You say you’re a religious man. There’s a man in the New Testament who says, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loseth his soul?’”

Then the judge turned to the co-defendant, Mazoltuv Borukhova, and added:

“You set out on a journey for revenge because a judge had the temerity to give custody of your child to your husband.”

Quoting Confucius, he said, “A person who sets out on a path of revenge should first dig two graves.”

Aside from being compelling quotes, the Times was right in quoting the religious language. The defense has already said that it will appeal the case on the basis that the judge showed bias against the religious beliefs of the defendants.

Print Friendly

  • ku ku

    I think boruhova is innocent

  • Jettboy

    A judge rebuking an Orthodox Jew by quoting the New Testament? A good “liberal” attorney could have this thrown out easily by using that mythical Church and State wall separation argument.

  • Northcoast

    It seems to me that the defence is grasping at straws here. However, since the judge quotes both Jesus and Confucius, I’d guess he is an Episcopalian (as I am).

  • Dale

    Ari wrote:

    The defense has already said that it will appeal the case on the basis that the judge showed bias against the religious beliefs of the defendants.

    Good luck with that argument. According to the New York Times:

    Both Dr. Borukhova and Mr. Mallayev told the police that they would never be involved in anything illegal because of their religious beliefs.

    The defendants claimed they couldn’t have committed the murder because the crime violates their religious beliefs. The defendants raised the issue of religion, and so opened the door to any questions about their observance (or lack thereof). They made religion an issue, so they’ll have a hard time convincing the appellate courts that the trial court improperly considered it.

    I thought the most interesting quotes were from this “reporter’s notebook” entry:

    “You take the rules of the Sabbath seriously?” the prosecutor, Brad Leventhal, asked.

    “Unless it’s an emergency.”

    Waving a page of phone records that showed she called the [spy] shop on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Leventhal shouted, “Was calling the spy shop at 2:33 in the afternoon an emergency?”

    “Yes, sir,” Dr. Borukhova said.
    . . .
    Justice Hanophy . . . shocked the defense lawyers by ordering them to sum up their cases the next morning — Friday — not Monday as they expected. That would force them to work overnight and, because the Sabbath-shortened day meant the prosecution would sum up on Monday, give the prosecutors all weekend to perfect their closing.

    [Borukhova's attorney] suggested a deal: If summations could wait until Monday to give all sides equal time to prepare, the defendants could promise that if the jury reached a verdict on Friday or Saturday, they would to break the Sabbath to hear it.
    . . .

    “She did say that she called the spy shop at 2 in the afternoon and that was an emergency,” Justice Hanophy said. “I don’t know if this isn’t an emergency also.”

    Dr. Borukhova said, “I would sooner die.”
    . . .
    Yet minutes later, she agreed to a different violation: The next day, she would stay as late as necessary into Friday night. The prosecutors would sum up that day, too. Both sides would have to cram overnight.

    Spectators were baffled: Why did she agree to a plan that gave her attorney less time but still violated the Sabbath?

    [Borukhova's attorney] worked a late night. But in the end, the Sabbath remained holy.

    Friday morning, Justice Hanophy declared the deal off: Working on the defendants’ sacred day, he worried, could be grounds for an appeal.

    So what’s the argument? That the court should have ordered the prosecution to give its summation, and thus cause the defendants and their attorneys to violate the sabbath? Like I said, good luck.

  • Dan Berger

    A judge rebuking an Orthodox Jew by quoting the New Testament?

    Not at all. It’s Zechariah 11:13. :)

  • rw

    immigrants from Russia

    I’m pretty sure they were Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan – a group with a fascinating history.