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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Man accused of strangling ex-wife pleads innocence

Yasir Darraji listens to the audio of a translator on the first day of his second-degree murder trial in Superior Court Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022 in Spokane, Washington. Darraji is accused of killing his ex-wife Ibtihal, who was found strangled to death in a burning car in January of 2020. He took the stand in the trial on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

A man accused of strangling his ex-wife denied having anything to do with her killing during court testimony Wednesday.

Yasir Darraji, a 33-year-old Iraqi immigrant, is charged with second-degree murder related to the death of his ex-wife, Ibtihal Darraji. She was found strangled in her burning car near Thornton Murphy Park on Spokane’s South Hill on Jan. 30, 2020.

Speaking through a translator, Yasir Darraji said he argued with his ex-wife earlier that night when she came to pick up their son.

When she arrived at his apartment, he stepped outside to talk to her, he said.

When she lowered her car window and opened her door, he said he could smell marijuana smoke and became concerned when he saw that her eyes looked tired and asked about her condition. He told their son to go back inside.

He testified that she became upset and honked her horn. He grabbed the steering wheel to try to stop her and told her not to disturb the neighbors, he said.

She pushed him and told him to leave before driving away, crying, without their son, he said.

He went out later that night with the intention of driving for Lyft, the rideshare app, he said, but he could not recall everywhere he drove that night.

When asked directly by the defense attorney if he killed his wife, Darraji became emotional.

“She is the mother of my child,” he said. “How could I kill her?”

And when asked if he had anything to do with setting her car on fire, he said, “No, this is a horrible crime.”

He also denied putting his hands on her neck.

Darraji went to work the next day, delivering furniture.

That afternoon, he had a phone call with Sajida Nelson, a friend who Ibtihal was supposed to meet after picking up their son. Ibtihal never showed up.

He testified that in the call, Nelson asked if his kids were at school.

Then she said she heard Ibtihal was dead, but she didn’t believe it, Yasir Darraji said.

He said he wasn’t concerned about the call because Nelson asked about the kids first and didn’t believe that his ex-wife was dead.

The prosecution plans to finish questioning Darraji on Thursday.

The Darrajis fled Iraq to Spokane in 2014 with their two children because Yasir was receiving threats, he said.

They married in 2006, when Ibtihal was about 15 and Yasir was 17.

They separated in late 2015 and their divorce was finalized in 2017. They shared custody of their two children.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.