On a frigid Wednesday morning, Mahmoud Hassanen sat inside a Fairfax County courtroom and once again heard the details of his 17-year-old daughter’s cold-blooded killing. On another side of the courtroom, family members of the accused, Darwin Martinez-Torres, wept as the judge read his plea, count-by-count.
The 23-year-old pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges in the June 2017 rape and murder of Nabra Hassanen, a Muslim teen from Reston, Virginia. Martinez-Torres faces four life sentences, without the possibility of parole. The plea deal allows him to avoid the death penalty.
“I remember her every day. I miss her. But what can I do?” says a tearful Mahmoud at a news conference held after the hearing. “I will never forget her. Never ever.”
With the help of a translator, Mahmoud confirmed that the outcome is in accordance with the family’s wishes. Members of Nabra’s family were once torn between whether Martinez-Torres should be sentenced to life in prison or get the death penalty.
Nabra was beaten to death while she and her friends were walking to their Virginia mosque after a pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. A dispute escalated between a teenage boy in the group and Martinez-Torres, who then drove his car onto the sidewalk and chased the group wielding a baseball bat. The teens ran and scattered, but Nabra lagged behind.
According to police, her body was discovered hours later in a nearby Loudon County pond. An autopsy found Nabra was sexually assaulted and died from blunt-force trauma to her head and neck.
“This is such a random attack on a young person practicing her faith. It’s just shocking,” says Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh.
“There are no winners here, but there is a tremendous amount of people who worked hard and will never forget Nabra and will honor her memory,” he adds.
Many deemed the slaying an anti-Muslim hate crime, but police have found no evidence of bias and call the murder a road rage incident.
“That is a question that will continue to be explored as this case progresses,” says Gadeir Abbas, senior litigation attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), when asked if Nabra’s family still considers the slaying a hate crime.
The incident sparked international attention, especially after immigration officials confirmed Martinez-Torres, a citizen of El Salvador, is in the U.S. illegally.
The plea agreement includes a rare provision that, in approximately one year, will allow the family to ask the defendant directly why he killed Nabra.
Martinez-Torres awaits his sentencing, which is scheduled for March 28, 2019.