Murder of Pakistani Businessman: Retrial Begins in California


Palm Spring, California: Dr Rafi Panhwar's murder trial that opened here rekindled the sense of solidarity among the members of Pakistani community and witnessed an outpouring of sympathy for the family of the victim. It may be recalled that Dr Rafi, a Pakistani businessman was murdered in his own 7-Eleven store, in La Quinta CA apparently by his manager in June last year. The first trial ended in a hung jury and paved the way for the retrial, which is now underway.
The prosecution seems to have adopted a more nuanced approach this time and decided to focus on forensic evidence, and the witnesses directly involved in the case; and eliminated all those details that have no direct bearing on the murder of an innocent family man.
The widow of the victim Abida Panhwar deposed as prosecution witness. Under cross-examination by the defense attorney Richard Soda she denied the charge that her late husband was embezzling money from his own business. "It was his store, why would he take money?" said the victim's widow. In her emotionally charged testimony Abida stated that she was undergoing the agony of retrial in the hope that she would get justice.
When asked if she could see the accused Prateek Bhargava in the courtroom, Abida said, "I don't want to see him". To demonstrate her disgust at the sight of the alleged murderer who was once their employee Abida sat facing the opposite direction during her deposition so she did not have to see the alleged killer of her husband.
Later talking to CBS News she said, “It is harder the second time around but we just want justice."
In a separate interview with the Desert News Station of CBS2 the victim's brother, Sani Panhwar, said the defense was trying to sow doubt in the jury's mind, but added the argument was ridiculous. When Rafi Panhwar first went missing, his brother looked through his accounts because he thought he was kidnapped. His brother found about $100 in checking accounts. "Someone who was embezzling would have more money around. That argument doesn't hold water," Sani Panhwar says. "A 5th grade kid can hear the evidence and see that this person is guilty," says the victim's brother.

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