A Prince William County jury handled the legal ramifications last week from a domestic slaying that had captured attention because it occurred while a police officer was in the home. But the personal and emotional traumas for the scarred Woodbridge family are still a long way from resolved, according to family members and county officials.
The 4 1/2-year-old marriage of Zainool and Zameena Baksh was often sour, and their children had grown accustomed to living with violence, acquaintances and relatives said. But the fighting reached a peak on Jan. 8 when Zainool Baksh stabbed his wife 13 times while their 4-year-old son watched and while a police officer sent to the home to assist Zameena Baksh was locked outside a bedroom door.
Last Wednesday, a jury in Prince William County Circuit Court deliberated 30 minutes before convicting Baksh of first-degree murder and recommending a sentence of life imprisonment, which would make him eligible for parole in 15 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25.
But law enforcement officials, therapists, and acquaintances familiar with the case say the couple's four children were the real victims of the dysfunctional relationship.
All of the Baksh children and most of Zameena Baksh's brothers and sisters are undergoing psychotherapy, family members said. The youngest child, who witnessed his mother's death, often suffers from nightmares and wakes up crying, but he refuses to discuss the dreams with his family.
"There are two young children who very much need a mother and are now without one," said Tom Hughes, director of the Prince William County Victim/Witness Program of the Commonwealth Attorney's Office. "There is a 16-year-old boy who was close to his father who has shown no remorse about what happened to his stepmother. And there is a 20-year-old girl who has to deal with her father killing her stepmother. He's in jail, but they have to deal with this."
After Baksh's arrest, the 16-year-old boy was placed in a Prince William County foster home; the youngest child, now 5 and the only one of the four children of both Zainool and Zameena Baksh, went to live with his mother's brother in New York City, along with Zameena Baksh's 12-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and Zainool Baksh's 20-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, family members said.
Zainool Baksh's stooped and frail mother, who also lived with the couple and reportedly had a stormy relationship with Zameena Baksh, has been placed in the custody of the Arlington Department of Social Services because there is no one else to care for her.
Twenty-one witnesses testified during Baksh's two-day murder trial, including the three younger children. The youngest boy sat calmly as he recounted to the jury how his father had entered his sister's bedroom shortly after 5 p.m. on that wintry day with a butcher knife clutched in his fist. "He stabbed her," the child said matter-of-factly. "Then he was arrested."
The 12-year-old girl testified that earlier that morning her stepfather had bloodied her mother's nose during an argument in their bedroom, as she and his mother attempted to break through the locked door. A few minutes later, she watched as he placed a knife in her mother's face and threatened her life, the girl said.
The 16-year-old boy candidly told the jury that he hated his stepmother and that he had sexually molested his half-brother. He also testified that he refused to hang up the telephone and call for additional police assistance at the very moment his father was stabbing his stepmother.
Prince William County Police Officer Ramon Gomez heard Zameena Baksh screaming from behind a locked bedroom door and ordered the 16-year-old to call 911. "I was on the telephone talking to someone else," the boy said.
"It is a significant event in someone's life to witness a murder, then to have to testify against their father at a murder trial," said Arnold Woodruff, director of mental health services for the Prince William County Community Services Board.
Today, the Bakshes' tri-level house on Margaret Street in Woodbridge sits empty; the bank that holds the title has granted the family a few months to decide what to do with it. Zameena Baksh's brother Shafiek Mohamed, of New York, and other family members successfully blocked Baksh's effort earlier this year to sell the house to pay for his legal defense. The house will probably be sold and the proceeds split into trust funds for the couple's four children, Mohamed said.
Mohamed, who is married with two small children, has taken custody of the the two youngest Baksh children, although his parents are expected to rear them. Zameena Baksh's six siblings are helping to pay for a New York City apartment for her parents and those children. Aged 65 and 67, the elder Mohameds had planned to retire to their homeland of Guyana, Mohamed said, but have given up that dream.