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Attorneys give closing arguments in trial of Iraqi immigrant accused of killing ex-wife

Nov. 17, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 17, 2022 at 9:44 p.m.

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

The trial of a man accused of strangling his ex-wife is nearing its end as attorneys made their closing arguments Thursday and the jury began deliberating .

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 in testimony Wednesday that he is innocent.

The Darrajis fled Iraq to Spokane in 2014. They separated in late 2015 and their divorce was finalized in 2017.

Prosecutor Hannah Stearns argued that Yasir Darraji was offended that his ex-wife was drinking, learning to drive, wearing shorts and exploring Christianity.

Further angered by learning that she slept with his friend, he began documenting her “bad behavior” by saving screenshots of her messages and social media accounts in order to justify that she deserved what would happen to her, Stearns told jurors.

He shared these messages with members of the local Iraqi community and her family members in Iraq, she said, adding that on Jan. 3, 2020, he told a mutual friend “I’m going to kill her, even if it takes 10 years.”

A couple of weeks later he called Ibtihal’s parents in Iraq with a warning to get their daughter in line, using the idiom “If you play with a lion’s tail, you get the teeth.”

The last straw, Stearns said, was a Jan. 27 voicemail from Ibtihal saying he is not worth her shoe and he is not a real man.

So, he was already furious when Ibtihal pulled up to his home to pick up their son Jan. 30, Stearns said. When she rolled down her window and he smelled marijuana, he strangled her. Then he drove her car back and forth from his apartment in Spokane Valley to the South Hill, Stearns continued, parking it near her apartment. He then poured gasoline on her body and lit her on fire.

Stearns showed the jury a photo of Ibtihal Darraji’s burned body. She said this was personal, not random.

Detectives pulled cellphone records that showed their phones traveling together from Yasir Darraji’s apartment in Spokane Valley to the South Hill where her car was found.

Yasir Darraji’s defense attorney, Rob Cossey, argued burning Ibtihal Darraji’s body could not have been done by one person alone.

Cossey acknowledged they had a toxic relationship, but that doesn’t make him a murderer, he said. Their relationship had been up and down for years, and none of these incidents would have pushed him over the edge.

He argued it didn’t make sense for Yassir Darraji to strangle her in the parking lot where people were coming and going.

Cossey questioned the reliability of cellphone tracking evidence, which could be off by up to half a mile. “Cell tower information is not DNA,” he said.

He also said the DNA investigation was not fair or complete because investigators did not test DNA samples for anyone besides Yasir Darraji. They also didn’t test areas of the vehicle besides the steering wheel and a driver’s side control panel, which did show his DNA.

Stearns rebutted the DNA investigation focused on the steering wheel and window controls because these were the areas most likely to indicate who had control of the vehicle.

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.

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