A suicidal mother leaps from a window with her small daughter. The child dies; the mother lives on in a shattered body and is tried for murder.
At her trial in a courtroom in this Los Angeles suburb, Farinoosh "Roya" Dalili lies prone in a hospital bed facing her jury, a box of tissues at hand to wipe her copious tears.Dalili's body was broken in so many places by her fall from a 10-story window that some 200 pins hold her splintered bones together. She's allowed to listen to testimony lying down because she cannot sit for long periods without pain.
It's the stuff of a classical Greek tragedy, and her Iranian family and members of the immigrant community stand by as the chorus, alleging she was an abused spouse whose victimization is continuing in the courts.
Prosecutors, who see no evidence of abuse, say she must pay for the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Nagen Natalie Dalili. So does her estranged husband, Nader Dalili, who's divorcing her and suing her for wrongful death.
"She's responsible for what happened," Deputy District Attorney Alex Karkanen said. "She's lost a daughter but she did it."
On March 3, 1997, Roya Dalili went to the Torrance Marriott Hotel and requested a room on a high floor.
The prosecution contends the 31-year-old woman held her daughter in her arms as she leaped from the window. Her lawyer, Alex Kessel, said that theory is pure speculation and probably wrong.
Kessel will present evidence beginning Tuesday that Roya Dalili and her little girl were so emotionally attached that the child probably saw her mother jump and followed her out the window.
Karkanen said he, too, believes the mother and child were close but says Kessel's theory is not supported by physical evidence.
"Based on our psychological reports, they were so close she wanted them to be together in death," he said. "It's our feeling that's not her choice to make."
Kessel points out that Roya Dalili tried suicide twice before. Once she slashed her wrists; the second time she tried to grab a doctor's needle and inject air into her veins.
Her husband testified that she had seemed "a little bit depressed" in the weeks before his daughter's death.
Dr. Ronald Markman, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said someone as focused on suicide as Roya Dalili would not have thought about the fate of her daughter.
"I think the daughter's presence essentially is irrelevant to her state of mind," Markman said. "Her only concern was her own demise. That's what she was looking for."
Nagen was dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.
Her mother, who landed 10 feet away from her child, had internal injuries and shattered feet, hips, pelvis, knees, an ankle and an elbow.
Roya Dalili wept in court as the prosecutor displayed pictures of her dead child.
Kessel will seek to show how Roya Dalili was driven to despair by her husband's verbal, physical and sexual abuse, which escalated when her baby turned out to be a girl - Nader Dalili wanted a boy.