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Man who killed Nabra Hassanen sentenced to life in prison

Nabra Hassanen’s name was drawn in chalk at a vigil at Lake Anne Plaza near Reston on June 21, 2017.
Nabra Hassanen’s name was drawn in chalk at a vigil at Lake Anne Plaza near Reston on June 21, 2017. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Nabra Hassanen’s family and friends spent two years trying to understand her killer: What would possess a man to randomly abduct a teen walking to her mosque, bludgeon her with a baseball bat, rape her and then dump her body in a pond?

Darwin Martinez Torres, 25, had never provided a true answer since that horrific night in June 2017. He had never even spoken publicly before he rose at his sentencing for capital murder Thursday clutching a letter.

The eyes of Nabra’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen, were wet with tears as he sat nearby in a Fairfax County courtroom, surrounded by dozens of his daughter’s supporters. Before being sentenced to eight life terms in prison, Martinez Torres agreed he would finally provide those answers.

“I’m very sorry for what I did,” he said through a Spanish interpreter. “I took the life of a person who was very loved. I don’t make excuses for what I did. Nothing can justify my crime. I’m willing and just want to help Nabra Hassanen’s family. I will do everything or anything to help them.”

Nabra Hassanen, 17, was assaulted and killed near her mosque in Sterling, Va. Her father, Mohmoud Hassanen, says he wants to look the alleged killer in the eye and ask him why he killed his daughter. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Martinez Torres has agreed to answer any and all questions posed by Hassanen’s family sometime during the next year, under an unusual provision of a deal reached with prosecutors in November that spared him the death penalty. The questioning may occur in writing.

Sterling man pleads guilty to killing Nabra Hassanen

Her family has long feared that Hassanen, 17, of Reston, Va., was targeted because of her Muslim faith. But police and prosecutors said they found no evidence of that, and Martinez Torres’s attorneys say it is not true.

The fear was, in part, the reason the slaying generated national headlines, sparked vigils from coast to coast and spurred thousands to turn out for a memorial service for the high school sophomore in the summer of 2017.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Hassanen’s family, said his clients will make their own determination about whether a hate crime occurred after gathering evidence from Martinez Torres.

If the motive for the killing remains shrouded, all sides agreed Thursday on its brutality.

“It is indeed a horrific, horrific case, just about as bad as you can get,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said during the hearing.

It unfolded in the early hours of June 18, 2017. Hassanen and a group of friends were walking back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling, Va., after eating a predawn meal at a McDonald’s. It was a common practice during the month of Ramadan, when worshipers fast during the day.

Martinez Torres approached the group in a dark red car about 3:40 a.m. Joseph Flood, an attorney for Martinez Torres, said previously that his client had consumed 13 to 16 alcoholic beverages that night and had smoked synthetic marijuana.

Martinez Torres pulled up behind a teen riding a bike and honked, sparking an argument. Martinez Torres drove at the teens, hitting the curb of Dranesville Road and driving up a hill after them.

The teens ran to a parking lot of a bowling alley, and Martinez Torres drove around to the same spot. He exited the car wielding a baseball bat and chased the teens.

The teens scattered, but Martinez Torres caught up with Hassanen. One of the teens heard a “thud and metallic ping,” and someone saw Martinez Torres standing over the teen while hitting the baseball bat on his hand, a prosecutor said at Martinez Torres’s plea hearing. Martinez Torres scared the other teens off.

The teens returned to the mosque, and searches began for Hassanen. Police were called, and about 4:30 a.m. officers arrived at the parking lot where the teens had encountered Martinez Torres. By then, a large group from the mosque had gathered there.

Someone told the officers that they saw the vehicle of the attacker, and police stopped it on the road. Martinez Torres was wearing no shirt or shoes, had scratches on his upper body and was covered in dirt and leaves. There was a bloody handprint on a console of the car.

Officers found flip flops, broken eyeglasses and blood on a guardrail near where Hassanen disappeared. What happened would slowly be revealed as Martinez Torres was questioned at a police station.

Martinez Torres eventually told detectives that “everything went out of control” when he caught Hassanen while wielding the baseball bat. He admitted hitting her on the head and then dragging her into the back seat of his car.

Martinez Torres drove the teen to a place near his Sterling apartment. She was unconscious but still alive, Martinez Torres told detectives. He removed her pants and sexually assaulted her.

Investigators found her naked body floating in a pond. A medical examiner determined that her skull was fractured and that her neck and an arm were broken.

Flood had previously said that Martinez Torres has an IQ of 68 or less and is probably intellectually disabled from exposure to neurotoxins from a mine near his childhood home in El Salvador. He also has a brain defect. Flood and Martinez Torres’s other attorneys said in a statement Thursday that their client, as a child, had “experienced and witnessed horrific abuse and degradation.”

“In our collective experience as attorneys — spanning over 60 years and over 150 capital cases — Darwin is the most impaired . . . defendant we have ever represented at trial,” the statement said.

That provided little solace to Hassanen’s family, who Morrogh said were too devastated to testify during the sentencing hearing.

After the hearing, Mohmoud Hassanen spoke briefly, saying he still thinks of his daughter every day — every minute, even.

“I don’t want something like that to happen to any family,” he said.

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