The victim's brother, his two uncles and two cousins sat in the back row in Fairfax County Circuit Court twisting strings of rosary beads, silently praying and staring with dark eyes at the man being tried.
The men had come to claim vengeance for the death of Mohammad Jamal Tafwiz, an Afghan rebel who fought Soviet soldiers for eight years and died as a night clerk in a 7-Eleven store at the hands of a robber who gained only $8.
"Blood by blood will pay off," said Iqbal Essar, Tafwiz's cousin. "The only thing that pays for the blood of the victim is the blood of the killer."
After about two hours of deliberation, a jury found Louis V. Arai, 19, of the 5000 block of Lone Oak Place, guilty of first-degree murder, robbery and use of a firearm in the shooting death of Tafwiz. The jury recommended a sentence of life in prison plus 22 years.
Arai's family cried. Tafwiz's family, sitting a row back, rejoiced.
"It was beautiful. Justice has been done," Essar said. "I will call overseas and talk to his wife and give her the good news."
Tafwiz's death had brought an ugly irony for a man who family members said lived for a cause, fighting the Soviets, running between bullets. "Bullets are raining there like it rains here," said a friend, Parwiz Latif, 25. "He'd been in so many dangers and he survived . . . . He came here and he just got killed."
Tafwiz, 23, was found face down in a pool of blood behind the counter at a Lincolnia 7-Eleven about 2:45 a.m. on Sept. 25. He had been shot once in the chest and once in the back of the head.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. told the jury that the last item Tafwiz rang up that night was a jar of Hershey's chocolate syrup. A cash register receipt recorded the sale of the $1.99 item about 2:15 a.m. "The defendant pulled a gun," Horan said. "Some type of altercation ensued. The defendant shot him twice."
Horan told the jury that Arai then stepped around the counter into the blood where Tafwiz lay and took about $8 out of the register. He left a partial footprint in the blood. Horan said Arai picked up several paper bags, presumably to wipe the blood off his shoe.
A trail of blood led out of the store to a trash can, where police found the Hershey's jar with 12 fingerprints belonging to Arai and several bloody bags. Arai was arrested a day later wearing a jacket with blood on a sleeve. Police tested the sleeve and found Type A blood, which matches Tafwiz's blood.
Arai's attorney, B.R. Hicks, told the jury that fingerprints on a syrup jar in a store open to the public should not link his client to the slaying. "Louis told police he had been to the store before to fill out an application," Hicks said.
Hicks said the bloody print could have been left by a shoe "a million other people could be wearing."
Shortly before the slaying, Arai had been at another 7-Eleven about a mile away where his friend, Tu Duc Dinh, worked, according to testimony. "The evidence is he needed money," Horan said. "He tells his friend Dinh, 'I need whatever you got.' "
A friend, who did not want to be identified, said that Arai owed another friend about $2,000 and he was afraid to ask his parents. Arai's mother owns two beauty salons and his father is an engineer, the friend said. Arai's family would not comment.
"Imagine an innocent man gets up at 9 o'clock to support his sister, to support his mother, and gets killed over a lousy $8," Essar said.