She seems composed but Amina Khaalis, one of two survivors of the massacre of seven Hanafi Muslims almost five years ago, still sees the bloody bodies as she turned them over to see if someone still lived.
She still relives the terror of lying in a closet in the Hanafi religous house on 16th Street, NW, pretending to be dead, after she had been shot three times. The horror of the execution-style slayings, which took the lives of her 18-month old child and two of her brothers, was enough to "derange the most stoic," but through sheer energy and rigid self-control, the woman appears calm.
Those findings, included in a report by a court-appointed psychiatrist who examined Khaalis, led a D.C. Superior Court judge to decide this week that the 26-yearold woman will not have to testify at the third trial of one of the men accused of the killings.
It was primarily those slayings that led to the takeover of three Washington buildings by 12 Hanafi Muslims last March, during which one person was killed and 149 others were held hostage.
Hamaas Abdul Khallis, the leader of the Hanafi Muslims, and Amina Khaalis' father, had demanded during the siege tha those convicted of the 1973 slayings, who were in jail, be turned over to him for punishment.The victims of the slayings, five of whom were children, were all members of Khaalis' family. Khaalis and 11 Hanafi followers were convicted in August of various charges in the takeover and are now in jail.
Amina Khaalis, who is now seven months pregnant, has already testified three times in connection with the 1973 murders, testimony that "compelled her to repeatedly reconstruct and relive the tragic past, keeping alive her recollection and torment," Dr. Harold Stevens, who is also a neurologist, said in a five-page letter to Judge Leonard Braman.
This repeated recollection of the events of the afternoon of Jan. 18, 1973, "has nullified the blunting of grief with the passage of time," Stevens wrote.
And as the sole healthy survivor of the massacre, "subtle but destructive feelings typical of the survivors's syndrome extracts further demands on her . . . emotional resources," Stevens said. Survivor's syndrome, typically feelings of fuilt, is often experienced by people who have lived through tragedies where others have died or been injured.
If she were made to undergo the pressure of courtroom interrogation again, Khaalis' "outward facade of composure" would probably disintegrate," Stevens said.
Khaalis had claimed she was unavailable to testify as a witness for the government in its case aginst John Griffin, a Black Muslim who is on trial now, for the third time, for his role in the 1973 slayings.
It was Griffin, Khaalis had testified earlier, who had killed her daughter, Khadyha.
Her memories of the slayings are vivid and she frequently "seeks solace in prayer," Stevens said of Khaalis in his letter to Braman. Asked how she would react if she had to testify again, Stevens said Khaalis told him she could not, that her speech would become slurred, her eyes bleary and "I would just collapse."
Stevens said he interviewed Khaalis' mother, who said while her daughter does not discuss the murders, she still "sees the bloody bodies" she found that afternoon, relieves the "terrifying experience of simulating death," as if still fearful of being victimized again.
The woman is not permitted to go outside the house at 7700 16th St. NW without an escort and is under the constant watch of her family, Stevens' letter said.
Khaalis spends her time sewing, according to the letter, and her mother believes that "Amina cannot handle household chores" or care for the children in the house.
According to the letter, Khaalis said she has difficulty coping with the daily routine of her life. She has often felt "uneasy," the report said, but "has never felt that life was not worthwhile."
Stevens said Khaalis has "suffered irreparable psychological trauma" and that it is "highly probable" that she would suffer psychiatric injury if she were to testify again about the murders.
Based on Stevens' letter, which included a review of the findings of another neurologist who examined Khaalis, Judge Braman decided the woman was medically and legally unavailable to testify at the Griffin trial.
Griffin, 32, was originally convicted, along with four other persons in February, 1974.
At that trial, Khaalis identified Griffin as the man who killed her daughter, but later at the trial of another Black Muslim, she identified a different man as the one who took her child's life.
As a result, Judge Braman ordered a new trial for Griffin, but the case ended in a mistrial, after Khaalis had to leave the witness stand before the lawyer for the defense completed cross-examining her.
She refused to return to court and also refused to undergo a court-ordered medical examination. Eventually, Braman ordered that Griffin would have to go to trial again.
In his decision this week, Braman said he would allow the government to introduce into evidence at the current trial, Khaalis' testimony during the first trial. Braman determined that on the basis of appearances by Khaalis at various hearings, the defense opportunity to cross-examining Stevens on his findings when Stevens testifies at the trial.