SPOKANE — The man convicted of murdering his ex-wife by strangling her and setting her on fire almost three years ago on Spokane’s South Hill was given a 25-year prison sentence Thursday after being confronted in court by his teenage child with the victim.
Yasir Darraji, a 33-year-old from Iraq, stood in a yellow Spokane County Jail jumpsuit and proclaimed his innocence Thursday before Spokane County Superior Court Judge John Cooney delivered the sentence. A jury convicted Darraji last month of second-degree murder and harassment — both felonies — of Ibtihal Darraji. Investigators called the case an “honor killing.”
Friends and family members of Ibtihal Darraji described her as generous and loving, and called Yasir Darraji a “monster,” while asking Cooney to sentence the killer to the maximum allowable punishment.
“She loved life and her children, and sadly even her ex-husband, Yasir,” wrote Zinah Shaker, Ibtihal Darraji’s friend.
A victim advocate read victim impact statements from Shaker, Ibtihal Darraji’s friend, Gulbahar Suwaed, and the victim’s mother, who said she wanted her former son-in-law to serve life in prison and that he deserved the death sentence.
Shaker wrote that her life changed when her friend was killed. She moved out of the area, leaving behind family, friends and school to heal.
Suwaed wrote that she considered Yasir Darraji a brother, but now “you’re a stranger and a killer,” she said.
“Now, everyone sees you as a monster,” Suwaed wrote.
The Darrajis’ 15-year-old daughter approached the lectern Thursday to deliver a statement to the court, but instead started yelling obscenities toward her father, who replied in Arabic. Two jail transport officers subdued the girl and escorted her out of the courtroom. They allowed her to return a short time later to watch the remaining court proceedings.
Hamid Nahi, said her friend, Ibtihal Darraji, came to the U.S. from Iraq seeking safety and a good life for her and her family. The couple moved to Spokane in 2014, according to court documents.
“She left a country with all her family there hoping she can give a better life for her kids here, and unfortunately, she trusted the wrong person to come with,” Nahi said.
Nahi called her an “innocent soul” who was excited for a new life and freedom. But, Nahi said Yasir Darraji had a “control issue” and did not want his wife to be happy.
Yasir Darraji told the court Thursday he brought his family to the U.S. to protect them from the threats he faced back home.
“If this court has mercy, please give it to me so I can be with my children,” he said through a translator.
Cooney said whether Yasir Darraji can contact his children will be left up to his children and the state.
Court documents indicated Yasir Darraji started an affair after he and his wife moved to Spokane, and she wanted a divorce.
Prosecutors argued Yasir Darraji was angry his ex-wife was becoming more “Americanized,” going out drinking and dancing, practicing Christianity and dating other men.
In February 2016, Ibtihal Darraji claimed Yasir Darraji attacked her several times and things continued to escalate in the months leading up to her murder, according to prosecutors.
Yasir Darraji testified he argued with his ex-wife the night she died.
Spokane County deputy prosecutor Hannah Stearns said Yasir Darraji drove to the South Hill with his ex-wife’s body in the car before lighting her on fire inside the car.
Cooney said it appeared Yasir Darraji splashed gasoline on her face before lighting her on fire, “which is incredibly brutal and incredibly cold,” he said.
Cellphone data showed the former couple’s phones traveling together from Yasir Darraji’s Spokane Valley apartment to the South Hill where her car was found. Yasir Darraji’s DNA was found on the car, forensic investigators testified. Gasoline was found on her clothes, car seat covers and car carpet.
Stearns said the victim’s body was “unrecognizable.”
Stearns noted the “unquantifiable” impact the murder had on those involved in the case, including the Darraji children — a 15-year-old and 11-year-old. Cooney said the children have been through several foster homes since the killing.
Others were also greatly impacted, including friends and even first responders. Firefighters who pulled the woman’s burning body out of the car sought counseling because of the incident, Cooney said.
Cooney followed Stearns’ sentencing recommendation of 25 years, or the high end of the standard sentencing range of 201/3 years plus another 42/3 years.
Stearns argued for the exceptional sentence, which is a sentence beyond the standard range, based on the jury’s finding of an aggravating circumstance that determined the murder caused a “destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.”
Yasir Darraji’s attorney, Robert Cossey, asked Cooney to impose the midpoint of the standard sentencing range, or about 16 years in prison.
He said his client has no prior criminal history and will spend a great deal of time in prison given the standard range.
Cossey told The Spokesman-Review his client will appeal the rulings in the case.
Cooney said the exceptional sentence was warranted because of the “coldness” of the killing. He said Yasir Darraji showed no remorse, and he felt the sentence protects the public.
Yasir Darraji will be given credit for time served and will serve three years of community custody, or probation, when he is released from prison.
“She didn’t find a better life,” Cooney said of Ibtihal Darraji. “Her life ended here.”