A man who slit the throats of his 3-year-old daughter and her mother one year ago was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder Thursday by an Alexandria Circuit Court jury despite his attempt to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Simon Bahta, 35, killed his ex-girlfriend Seble G. Tessema, 27, and their daughter, Eden. The woman and child were found dead April 11 in an apartment in the 300 block of South Reynolds Street.
The jury deliberated for a little more than two hours. Sentencing deliberations will continue Friday. Also convicted of burglary, Bahta faces a maximum of two life sentences plus 20 years.
In closing arguments Thursday after a four-day trial, the prosecution and defense used graphic crime-scene photos to illustrate opposing points.
Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel said the violence depicted in the photos portrayed Bahta as a jealous man who executed the crime with “great control, great precision, great purpose.”
“He planned in advance and carried out two of the most brutal murders anyone can conceive of,” he said.
Sengel also said Bahta knew what he had done because he quickly left the scene, called his sister and confessed, changed his clothes and went to New York to try to evade police.
Deputy Public Defender Paul Pepper did not dispute that Bahta killed Tessema and the girl. But he contended that Bahta had suffered from mental illnesses for years. “You look at these photos and the only conclusion you can draw is insanity,” Pepper said.
Bahta, upset after discovering a man’s phone number in Tessema’s online cellphone call log, called Tessema 102 times the night before the killings, according to testimony.
Bahta — also known as Simon Asfeha — and Tessema had split up after Bahta repeatedly became violent with her, according to testimony. Tessema had a no-contact order against Bahta, but the two still communicated, sometimes to coordinate visits for Eden. On the Sunday morning of the killings, Bahta had come to Tessema's apartment to pick up Eden for a scheduled visit.
But instead of waiting for a neighbor to bring down Eden as planned, Bahta went to Tessema's apartment and, within seconds, slit their throats multiple times.
In court, Bahta’s lawyer described him as a damaged man who grew up in Ethiopia and was drafted into a civil war against his will at age 14. He came to the United States as a political refugee; he met Tessema here and they started a life together.
He has received various diagnoses of mental illnesses, including impulse disorder, mood disorder and psychiatric disorder, Pepper said. In 2008, he was voluntarily admitted to a mental hospital after he smashed furniture during a fight with Tessema.
The day of the killings, Pepper said, it was as if a “balloon burst” in his mind and he feared that his life was falling apart. “He probably didn’t even know what he was doing,” Pepper said.
But Sengel said it was jealousy, not mental illness, that caused Bahta to kill.
“He loved them not as human beings but as things he possessed and controlled and dominated,” Sengel said. “He realized he can’t get what he wants anymore by beating his [girlfriend] and threatening suicide. So he committed the most selfish act: If I can’t have them, nobody can.”