What to Know
- Yaser Abdel Said, 65, is accused of killing his teenage daughters in 2008 in what prosecutors have called an "honor killing."
- Said spent six years on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List before he was arrested in Justin in August 2020.
- The death penalty is not an option in this case. If convicted of capital murder, Said would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The capital murder trial of Yaser Abdel Said, a 65-year-old cab driver from Lewisville accused of murdering his two teenage daughters in a purported "honor killing" continued Thursday in Dallas with the girls' mother taking the stand.
Patrica Owens, Yaser Said's ex-wife, testified before the jury Thursday morning and said why she fled her home with her daughters only to return days before they were killed.
Owens, who visibly had trouble on the stand and has been diagnosed with PTSD and is on medication, said she met Said when she was 14 and he was 29. She said she married him at the age of 15, with the permission of her parents after dating for three weeks, and had three children with him over the next three years.
She said she and her two daughters, Amina and Sarah, returned to her husband because he was abusive and she was scared of getting hurt.
She said she urged Amina to return home on the day of the murders even though the teen said she feared for her life. Owens said on the day her daughter returned Yaser appeared happy and he kissed her on the forehead and shed a tear.
When asked to identify her ex-husband in court, Owens raised her arm, pointed at Said and said, “That devil there.” She told jurors she and her husband had not spoken since the night their daughters were killed.
Prosecutors asked Owens if she had any idea what might have happened to her daughters when they left to eat with their father and she said, “Part of me did. Part of me didn’t" before saying, "I'm sorry."
Owens said her ex-husband was abusive and controlling and would look over the girls' phone records and would call numbers to see if they belonged to a boy or a girl. Prosecutors said Said was angry the girls were dating out of their culture and that they had recently ran away to be with their boyfriends.
Prosecutors claim Said's daughters made an outcry that he'd sexually abused them and had touched them inappropriately.
Said's defense argued Owens' story had changed so much over the years that she was close to becoming a suspect herself and also claimed police were fixated on blaming a Muslim man for the killings instead of looking at other potential suspects. The defense is also expected to try to discredit Sarah's chilling 911 call, played before the jury on Wednesday, where she said her father shot her.
The girls' bodies were found in their father's taxi cab outside the Omni hotel in Irving, both of them had been shot multiple times. Said disappeared and had not been seen for 12 years until his arrest in Justin by the FBI in August 2020.
Said entered a not guilty plea Tuesday and faces an automatic life sentence if convicted.
911 CALL TAKES CENTER STAGE DURING DAY 2 OF YASER SAID TRIAL
Silence filled Dallas County District Court 7 Wednesday as prosecutors prepared to present the chilling 911 call made by a dying Sarah Said on New Year 2008.
“My dad shot me! I’m dying! I’m dying,” yelled a frantic woman identified as Sarah.
Yaser Said sat emotionless, holding a finger to his ear to listen to the disturbing audio.
The potential key piece of evidence was admitted on day two of testimony, despite objections by the defense who previously cautioned jurors their expert will later testify that the 17-year-old victim may have been ‘hallucinating’ after being shot nine times when she named her father as her shooter.
Jurors also saw the orange taxi cab where she and her 18-year-old sister, Amina, were found shot to death.
Hotel employee Nathan Watson testified about the moment a taxi cab driver reported seeing two injured people in the cab lane of the hotel.
YASER SAID TRIAL DAY 2
“I could see a young lady who had her eyes fixed open and there was stuff coming out of her nose,” said Watson.
Police allege these were ‘honor killings’ committed by an abusive, controlling and possessive father who was angry his daughters dated outside their culture and had left home recently.
Said’s three public defenders argue this was a botched police investigation fixated on a Muslim man in a post-9/11 world full of Islamophobia.
Day two of testimony ended with a former crime scene investigator who wheeled in a cart full of evidence including the bullet-riddled cab seats, shell casings and projectiles found throughout the car and photographs showing a shell casing found on Amina’s shoulder.
Former Irving police officer Steven Hazard testified he believed the girls were not shot at the location they were found.
He also told evidence on Sarah’s body indicated she was shot at very close range.
OPENING STATEMENTS ON DAY 1 OF YASER SAID CAPITAL MURDER TRIAL
During opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutor Lauren Black said Said was "obsessed with possession and control."
About a week before the sisters were killed, they and their mother fled their home in Lewisville to Oklahoma to get away from their dad, who worked as a taxi driver, Black said. The sisters had become "very scared for their lives," and the decision to leave was made after Said "put a gun to Amina's head and threatened to kill her," the prosecutor said.
But, Black said, in another act of "control" and "manipulation" by Said, he told them he had changed and convinced them to return home. The evening the sisters were shot, their father wanted to take just the two of them to a restaurant, she said.
The girls' aunt, Connie Moggio, broke down on the stand as she identified autopsy photos of her nieces. She told jurors about a conversation she had with a frantic Amina the day of the murders. "She didn't want to go back home, she would rather be dead than ever go back there," Moggio testified.
In a letter written to the judge overseeing the case, Said said he was not happy with his kids' "dating activity" but denied killing his daughters. Defense attorney Joseph Patton said in opening statements that the evidence would not support a conviction, that police were too quick to focus on Said, who was born in Egypt, and suggested that anti-Muslim sentiment played into that focus.
"It is wrong for the government to generalize an entire culture, criminalize an entire culture, to fit their narrative, and to fit their objective. The state wants to convict Yaser for being Muslim in 2008," said Patton.
His defense said no one will testify they saw Said at the crime scene, adding police should have investigated the girls' mother or Amina's boyfriend. "They were the last people to see Amina and Sarah alive," he said.
Amina's boyfriend testified he and his father indeed saw Said and both girls in his cab shortly before the shooting and that they briefly followed them out of concern. "Her look was in fear, she didn't look like she wanted to be there," said Amina's boyfriend Edgar Ruiz.
YASER SAID TRIAL DAY 1
The girls, who were both students at Lewisville High School, were reportedly shot multiple times by their father. Their bodies were later discovered inside his cab, parked outside of an Omni hotel.
Before she died, Sarah was able to call 911 and told the operator, "Help, my dad shot me! I'm dying, I'm dying!"
Black said Sarah Said was shot nine times and Amina Said was shot twice.
In moments of extreme trauma, like being shot multiple times, people can have hallucinations, Patton said.
Black said the sisters, both high school students in Lewisville, dreamed of becoming doctors, and that Yaser Said grew "angrier" as they grew up and became more educated and independent.
"When they had more independence, that was less control for him," Black said.
Sarah's boyfriend testified about why she kept their relationship a secret. "Something would happen to me or something would happen to her," Erik Panameno told jurors.
Prosecutors presented an email Amina reportedly sent her Lewisville teacher days before her death, confiding that her father was arraigning her marriage so she and her sister were going to run away. "He will kill us," Amina wrote.
More than 58 people are expected to be called to testify, including the girls' mother as well as local and federal investigators and experts on Muslim culture.
The judge is also allowing prosecutors to tell jurors about allegations that Said sexually abused his own daughters, who later recanted.
YASER SAID TRIAL
A film made about the murders, "The Price of Honor," alleged the girls were killed by their father as an "honor killing," a cultural practice where someone is killed after bringing shame on their family. The film furthers speculation the girls' father objected to his daughters living an "American lifestyle."
Yaser Said, who had been sought on a capital murder warrant since the slayings, was placed on the FBI's most-wanted list. In August 2020 Said was arrested in Justin and two relatives were arrested in Euless. The relatives were identified by the Dallas FBI as Said's brother Yassein and his son Islam.
Both men were charged with harboring a known fugitive and are now serving time in federal prison.
The death penalty is not an option in Yaser Said's case. If convicted of capital murder, he would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.