Judge Sentences Killer in Murder Case That Divided Assyrian Community
Phoenix, Arizona -- Many people in a crowded courtroom wept uncontrollably Friday for a 29-year-old Gilbert man and his killer, two men who had been friends since childhood and were members of the Valley's tight-knit Assyrian community.
Ramsen Dadesho, 33, was sentenced to 22 years of prison, credited with 459 days served, on one count of second-degree murder in Maricopa County Superior Court by Judge Christopher Whitten for the 2009 shooting death of Rami Merza, 29, of Gilbert, after a four-hour emotional proceeding for both families.
Whitten handed down the sentence moments after Merza's and Dadesho's family members spoke before the judge about what the men meant to their families including all six of Merza's siblings (five sisters and one brother), how the tragedy has destroyed both families and divided their ethnic community.
Scottsdale police arrested Dadesho after a brief foot chase about midnight on March 22, 2009, moments after a worker servicing a restaurant on the northwest corner of Raintree Drive and Loop 101 heard gunshots and told police he saw Dadesho walking away from the car. A .44 Magnum was found in a bush about 20 yards from where Merza was shot inside his car as he apparently attempted to exit it.
Dadesho had told police at the time of his arrest that he was in the parking lot that night to make a deal on 50 pounds of marijuana. But for reasons unknown, according to prosecutors, he shot Merza three times - once in the back, once in the neck, and a third time in the head. Merza was alive for about the first four minutes after he was shot the first time, according to authorities.
Dadesho's defense attorney, Barry Mitchell said that dangerous drugs were in both men's systems. Police had discovered a small amount of marijuana in Merza's front pocket.
Whitten cited mitigating factors for the sentence: Dadesho tried to hide the gun after shooting Merza, the murder was a product of impairment (due to the drugs in Dadesho's system), Dadesho was not truthful after his arrest, Dadesho used more violence than necessary to kill a person, and the killing caused great emotional harm to the victim's family.
Dadesho, who entered into a plea agreement to second-degree murder in May, broke down and cried as family members pleaded for leniency.
Dadesho was the last to speak before the judge.
"I wished it were me instead of him," Dadesho said. "I'm sorry. I'm ready to take full responsibility for what I've done. I took a life and destroyed many lives."
Both Merza and Dadesho had known each other since childhood, and both families knew each other.
"It is very hard to understand," said the Rev. Shlioumn Koshoba of the Assyrian Church of the East in Phoenix. "This has divided the community."
Merza's mother, Nonia Merza, who had immigrated to the large Assyrian community of Modesto, Calif. with her seven children from Syria in 1985, cried as she spoke to the judge about her slain son who told her he was going to move back to Modesto three days before he was killed.
"We're a piece of each other," Merza said. "We have each other's hearts. Ramsen Dadesho took my spirit and my heart. What am I going to do?"
Merza, who was described by his sisters as the "heart and soul" and "baby" of the family, had moved to Arizona from Modesto in 2007 to better his life and worked in sales at the Honda Superstition Springs dealership, family members said. He later tried to help Dadesho get a job shortly before Dadesho moved to Arizona from Modesto, where both familes are from.
Earlier during the sentencing, all five of Merza's sisters and brother pleaded with the judge to give Dadesho the maximum sentence.
Dadesho had earlier been charged with first-degree murder, but because of Merza's mother's failing health and not wanting to put her through a trial, the Merza family supported the plea deal, family members said.
Merza lived with his older sister, Rita Suleiman, and her husband, Art, after he moved to Arizona. Suleiman said of her brother: "He had a heart of gold and a laugh that was infectious. If you needed money, he would take it away from himself and give it to you."
Art Suleiman said, "Rami was not a drug dealer. He was a great person. We chose him to be the godfather of our children."
Assyrians are a Middle Eastern Christian community without a territory, but many had immigrated to central California to become farmers because that is what they knew, Rita Suleiman said.
About 8,000 Assyrians live in the Valley, according to the Rev. Shlioumn.
"This has caused a separation in the community," Rita Suleiman said. "Assyrians are a very proud people who are very honorable, highly religious and educated. For an Assyrian to kill another one, that's inexcusable."
Defense attorney Mitchell would not comment after the hearing and would not say whether he plans to appeal the sentence.Dadesho's father, William Dadesho, who testified earlier for his son, said of his son's sentence, "It wasn't fair. They portrayed my son as an evil man. I'm not condoning what he's done. He's a fine young man."
Merza's mother, said of the sentencing, "Ramsen is still alive. He can eat, sleep and his family can still see him. But what about my son? I can't see him no more, I can't speak to him no more. It's not fair."
By Mike Sakalwww.eastvalleytribune.com