Gender, Madness, Religion, and Iranian-American Identity: Observations on a 2006 Murder Trial in Williamsport, Pennsylvania
1.2. Structure of Article
1.3. Brian Killed Susan: Trial as Applied Microhistory
He attacked her in an upstairs bedroom of a shabby green house on 1024 Memorial Drive in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. After sixty knife wounds, sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m. on 24 August 2001, Susan succumbed. The coroner could not tell which wound killed her, but she could tell that Susan had tried to defend herself. She had no real chance of surviving the brutal attack. Brian was 52 and little Susan had not yet turned five. Her birthday was but three days away.After killing her, Brian checked the street. He went to a nearby Bi-Lo store and bought flowers. He came back and washed her clothes; he washed her body. He placed her back into bed and surrounded her with the flowers and with her favorite stuffed animals. He washed the two knives that he had used to kill her. They were his knives. This was his house. Susan was his daughter.At 7:15 p.m., a missionary stopped by the house. Brian sent him away saying it wasn’t a good time. At 7:20 p.m., he went out to a dumpster and threw out some pornographic videotapes. At 7:25 p.m., Brian called 911 to report that he had found Susan dead. Police arrived at 7:27 p.m., and it was not long before Brian was taken into custody. He cooperated with police; he even helped them find Susan’s mother, Amaneh, known in Williamsport as Mellie. She would be at the McDonald’s on East 3rd, across from the Learning Works. Mellie and Brian were legally separated and just coming to the end of a long and bitter custody battle over Susan. That morning, Brian’s visitation was reduced so that Susan could attend kindergarten. Brian was supposed to hand Susan back over to Mellie at the McDonald’s at 8:00 p.m. that evening.At the police station, officers tried to build on Brian’s cooperative behavior and coax a confession from him. He sobbed, looking at a picture of his daughter. For a while he maintained that he had found Susan after going to the Bi-Lo store to buy flowers. She looked scared, he said, so he had cleaned her up and placed her in his bed in new clothes, and with the stuffed animals and the flowers he had bought. He complained that he was hungry (and a diabetic), so an officer was sent to McDonald’s. There, Mellie approached the officer. Brian had done this before—been late with Susan. Once before, in fact, he had kidnapped her. The week before Brian had followed Mellie and Susan from the McDonald’s to the Learning Works and had threatened Mellie (but not Susan). Because of the way a custody hearing had gone earlier that day, she was worried that Brian had kidnapped Susan again. He had lost some of his visitation time so that Susan could start kindergarten in September, but she had agreed to let Brian have Susan for the afternoon following the hearing. Kidnapping was likely the worst thing Mellie could imagine Brian doing in response. Almost no one who testified—and certainly no one who knew the family well—had imagined Brian could do this.
1.4. Im/Mobilities as an Analytical Framework: Navigating the Intersection of Gender Ideology, Ethnicity, and Religion
2. From Iranian Immigrant to American Murderer
2.1. Gendered Im/Mobility between Iranian and American Legal Systems
I am contesting the divorce because I do not believe in divorce, okay, and if she wants to get it, I have written her a letter. She has to go through proper channels [in Iran] to get it. Muslim marriage is not a sacrament but a simple legal agreement in which either party is free to [include] conditions. It’s not a sacrament, so it’s like a prenuptial agreement. I have another one [i.e., Iranian law in translation] from the Library of Congress. If you kill your child, you will not be charged. I can let you read it. It is in English. Okay, that’s the law. If you like it or not. If a father, not a mother, if a father or grandfather or the father’s side kill the child, you have to pay like $5000 to the mother, but you can’t be charged. That’s the law, you know, that—we are really family oriented back there (Yasipour vs. Yasipour, 10 December 2002 cited in (TY 2006, pp. 142–43, 7 March). Emphasis added.).
[Brian] didn’t necessarily testify. He sort of made a speech. The speech repeatedly went into the fact that under Iranian law the parties are married pursuant to a contract between them, and talked about it being a multiple page contract with all of the contingencies and that the [American] Court didn’t have jurisdiction over them under Iranian laws because they can’t undo the contract. He said that repeatedly. He also said something to the effect, and I will paraphrase here, that if the Court in America were to grant the divorce and his wife were to remarry, that if he went to Iran he would be teased or harassed, or something along that line. He spoke for, it seemed, quite a long time about that. He was very coherent and clear in his position. The judge then made his ruling and made it clear that under American law that things are different and the elements to bifurcate the divorce are present. I think, if I recall, Mr. Yasipour thanked him when it was over.
“If you were on Mars would you be a Christian or a Muslim?” I asked.“Christian.”“What did you like about Christianity?”“Love your neighbor.”
[Current Article 202]: The father or grandfather that kills his own child should not be subject to qesās, yet shall pay a diyeh (“blood money”) to the heirs of the victim and be subject to taʿzir (3–10 years for “intentional murder”).
The father or grandfather or mother or grandmother that kills their own child shall not be subject to qesās, yet shall pay the murder diyeh to the heirs of the victim and be subject to taʿzir.
- Judge Anderson:
- Why was [Brian] angry?
- Oh, I told him, “Why you here? Because we just said goodbye.” We left the McDonald [sic] and came to the [shopping] center. And I asked him, “Why are you here? Why are you following us?” And he said, speaking Farsi, “Shut up and speak Farsi [Persian],” and I said, “I am asking why you here? [Sic] Is that a big question?” He said, “Speak Farsi. [Or] shut up…”
- And then he got mad at you because you were questioning him for being around his daughter [emphasis added]?
- He was mad at me because he was speaking Farsi and I did not want to speak Farsi because he was saying something that was not okay to say, you know, I didn’t want to hear.
- The only reason he’s mad at you is because you won’t speak Farsi with him?
- Because he was telling me bad words and he didn’t want me to speak English so people wouldn’t hear [the Persian threats] because the way he talks so friendly like [in English], but if you know the divorce, you know what’s going on.
- I still don’t understand why he’s mad at you.
- Because I asked him, “Why are you followed [sic] me?” Then I spoke English and he did not want me to speak English [emphases added]…
- As a result of this fight, argument, and the fact that Mr. Yasipour allegedly threatened to cut you up, were you afraid for Susan at that time?
- Because at the time I thought he—
- Mr. Dinges:
- Objection to the relevance, Your Honor. We are offering it to show anger at [Amaneh].
- Mr. Miele:
- Their theory is that the child’s in danger because [Brian] is angry at [Amaneh]. She is there. She can give her opinion as to why she wasn’t fearful for Susan at the time. How is that not relevant?
- [Ma’am] Mr. Miele’s question was, did you have any fear for your daughter at that time? You answer was no. And he’s asked you the question then, why not? Are you able to express that?
- Well, he said he would kill me. He didn’t say he would kill Susan.
- You were aware, were you not, on that particular day that Mr. Yasipour had had a history of mental problems, weren’t you?
- Kind of…I knew he was difficult. I knew we have gone to many counselors. He had gone to many counselors, but I am not a psychologist so…
- Judge Anderson:
- I mean, they [Brian and Betty] disagreed?
- Brian Jr.:
- Yeah. I mean, he would get upset. We was living in housing projects, trailer parks, and he always felt as if he had a good job, he was making good money, and he could never understand why the courts would not let him have custody of us, being that he was trying to get us out of an unsafe environment, and it really—in the long-run he was right because we was just out of control.
- Exactly. He never—he was always upset because the courts weren’t doing what he knew was right, correct?
- Brian Jr.:
- No. What he didn’t understand, that’s the way it is in America. He’s from a different country. I understood that and I’d try to help him, but he just didn’t understand that.
- He’s from Iran and pretty much what the father says goes?
- Brian Jr.:
- Yeah, much so, yeah. It’s a totally different culture [emphasis added]…
- And that’s probably the same thing he was going through with Susan, frustration?
- Brian Jr.:
- It’s just something that—it was about to be the same thing all over again….
2.2. “If He Is Not a White Christian, What Is He?”: Mobility, Ethnicity, and Religion
- Judge Anderson:
- [You’re] going to attempt to show me was the state of mind by Mr. Yasipour at the time of this killing, that he could not distinguish between right and wrong [i.e., the McNaughton standard for legal insanity]?
- Mr. Miele:
- We’re going to show you a state of mind that complies with McNaughton on all the requirements of McNaughton and that being certainly one aspect, one component of it. What we’re trying to do is buttress, if you will, [the defense’s psychiatric expert] Dr. [Pogos] Voskanian’s opinions based on some cultural considerations. He is not a white Christian, as the Court once referred to him. He is not. He is Iranian. That’s where he was born, raised, [and] lived his formative years. He was raised in the Muslim religion. That is what his core is. Whether he’s changed to Christianity, whatever, that doesn’t change what happened to him as a child when he was 12 or so and where—how he had to deal with it as a child and the environment that he lived in.
- Mr. Miele:
- You just—you do have a preconceived notion. You just acknowledged if only based upon his appearance and he’s neither…I didn’t want him to be portrayed as a white Christian. I knew before then—before trial started, we’d discussed it on the defense that the Commonwealth at some point if we didn’t they would certainly mention the fact that he is Iranian, and that’s already happened, not through us, but through the Commonwealth’s case.
- Judge Anderson:
- …[Your] concern was that the jury would see him as something else, and that’s why the whole issue came up.
- You’re right, Judge.
- Judge Anderson:
- I don’t care if he is Iranian frankly.
- Mr. Miele:
- I know you don’t care. I understand that you don’t care. I’m not accusing you of caring. I’m just saying you have to understand that because he is Iranian he comes from a different culture. They have different values. They have different ways of looking at things than you and I do, having been born and raised here in the US, and those things impact on him and how he deals with things, and Doctor—or Mr. [Anonymous’], I apologize, testimony will address that in part, particularly as it relates to how do you deal with being the victim of sexual abuse as a child in a Muslim country? How do you deal with that? What support is there available to you? I don’t understand for the life of me how that isn’t relevant.
For much of the day, Yasipour—a hirsute man who was dressed in a forest-green prison jumpsuit—stared blankly at the ground. His two sons, Brian Jr. and Timothy, sat behind him in support. The only time Yasipour expressed any emotion was when graphic pictures and videotape of his dead daughter’s body were shown.
The brutality of it never left me—those autopsy slides. Seeing just such a small body so cut up was really, it was…It was a shock. It was a realization that the world may be, you know, wasn’t as kind a place as I had previously hoped. I also felt, like, I felt a tinge of—I don’t know—sadness for Brian in a way because he was painted…as a very lonely man. And I didn’t understand why if he was so lonely that he would take the one thing out of this world that seemed to matter most.
Mr. Yasipour is preoccupied with depressive obsessions such as the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, frustration, [of being] mistaken, blameworthy and pessimistic, as tearful, suicidal, and at times homicidal. He has thoughts when he is rejected of hurting people, burning their houses down, killing them, etc., but he has never hurt anyone.
Picture Mr. Yasipour this day. Marriage gone. Job gone. Wife is against him. Attorney Mr. Felix fired the night before because he would not agree with him. Mr. Yasipour felt that he [Felix] turned on him for a decision that he’d [Yasipour] made. Mr. Yasipour went through a litany of witnesses that showed a pathetic effort to get people to come to his custody hearing. He went to neighbors. He went to people he thought were friends. He went to Molito’s Sub Shop where he bought subs to try to get the people that worked at the sub shop to come down and testify for him. He was rejected. He went to his sons. They would not come up. He was running on a bad batch of road. The next day he gets there [i.e., the custody hearing]. What happens? Man, not only is he rejected, he’s dressed down in severe style, and then he leaves. What’s he got left? He’s got Susan. He’s got Susan.…First Susan says, “I don’t want to go with you.” [Brian asks Amaneh], “Will you help?” She goes with him. Now they get into the quiet of the home. What’s she [i.e., Susan] want to do? Calls Mom. A form of rejection. It’s the ultimate and the final rejection. And I believe that Dr. Sallade, who opined this six years before the fact, had it right on.
2.3. “I Am a Good Father”: Imaginary Im/Mobility in Brian’s Confession and Internet Debates about Brian’s Religion
- LurkerXIV (15 March, 5:06 p.m.):
- The sooner this freak Yasipour is put behind bars for life, the better. I hope Mellie is holding up OK. This must be agonizing for her.
- Quinn (16 March, 10:49 p.m.):
- Mellie is an amazing women [sic]. She has a strength and understanding that I would never have. Brian has two older sons whom I have met and like, today we had lunch together. They are in an awful position as well; they love their father and don’t deny that this happened but are strong in thier [sic] belief that he was not in his right mind at the time because of a (questionable IMO) history of mental problems and have forgiven Brian. Mellie and the boys have a wonderful relationship even tho they have different opinions about the case.
- LurkerXIV (17 March, 4:05 p.m.):
- Thank you [Quinn] for actually being there at the Court House for her during the trial.
Reading the news reports makes me really detest some psychiatrists. The ones the defense has hired will say anything for the money. They are just hired hands. As for Yasipour being molested while he was a boy in Iran...that culture (Muslim) accepts and encourages male homosexuality, so I don’t know why it would upset him so much.
- Quinn (17 March, 4:30 p.m.):
- The defence [sic] is saying that that is not accepted or acknowledged in Iran. They conceed [sic] that one man would never do that to another. There is no help for those that confess to a man on man rape. Miele is saying that is why he came to America, changed his name from Huessain (SP) to Brian, changed religion and the beliefs and way of living. They are supposed to have a culture expert coming in to testify…
- LurkerXIV (19 March, 11:20 p.m.):
- I wonder who their “culture expert” is and what he/she will say. Homosexuality in the Islamic world is a very convoluted business. Culturally, it is most certainly a common practice in Iraq and Iran; whether it is punished or not depends on who is in power.
Here is a good article that explains why:
- Quinn (21 March, 12:03 a.m.):
- Thank you for the article. Any suggestions how I could get in the hands of the D.A. Dinges? I would like him to see this. I will be in court tomorrow. If it helps I do know the invesigater [sic] Steve Sorage.
“What should people know about you?” I asked.“That I am a good father.”I paused [I could scarcely believe what I was hearing]. “Why do you think you are a good father?” I asked.“Because I care.”“Anything else? Anything you did to be a good father?”No answer.“Why do you think others might not think you are a good father?”“Because of divorce.”
I said, “You were trying to convince the police that you did not kill Susan?”“Yes.”“Did you plan to flee at some point, to escape?”“No.”“So you thought you might convince everyone you had not harmed Susan and just continue living in Williamsport.”“Yes.”
3. Concluding Discussion: “Regimes of Im/Mobility” and Historical Analysis
The difficulty lies in obtaining the brother’s testimony. No one has spoken to [the] defendant’s brother, no one has an address, and therefore the content of his testimony is at this time uncertain. If alive, [the] defendant’s brother is in Iran, a country [with] which the United States has limited diplomatic relations. Counsel concedes they cannot travel to Iran and it is highly unlikely that defendant’s brother would be able to travel to the United States. Counsel’s plan, if the continuance is granted, is to find [the] defendant’s brother through a law office in Chicago. This law office maintains contacts in Iran. If found, defense counsel feels that arrangements can be made through the Pakistani Embassy to obtain a Visa for [the] defendant’s brother to travel to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Counsel would then either arrange for some type of video conferencing or, as a last resort, proceed to Dubai to take his deposition for trial. The Court is keenly aware, and is sensitive to the fact this is a death penalty case and, accordingly, wishes to proceed in a manner that is cautious and accommodating to the defense. But, while the Court applauds defense counsel for leaving no stone unturned, the logistics of this particular situation are far beyond speculative. There is no assurance that anything can be accomplished by this intricate and costly procedure [emphasis added]; no one can represent to the Court what the testimony of [the] defendant’s brother will be, or even that he can be found. Accordingly, the motion for continuance must be denied.(Anderson 2005, p. 2; emphasis added.)
4. A Note on Methodology
Conflicts of Interest
|1950||Hosayn Yasipour born to a South Tehran merchant family.|
|ca. 1962||Many years later, Brian reported that he was raped by an older boy around this time.|
|1968–1969||Brian (Hosayn) leaves Iran in 1968 (converts secretly to Christianity before leaving), arrives in the United States in 1969, drops out of junior college, and begins a series of sales jobs while marrying and starting a family in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.|
|ca.1980–1990||A decade of custody battles with first ex-wife, Betty Keller.|
|1992||Brian and Amaneh (Mellie) Khatun marry in Iran as Muslims.|
|1994||Brian fired from his job at Monumental Life Insurance company; he begins a wrongful termination lawsuit.|
|1995||Psychologist Dr. Sallade assesses Brian for Social Security disability status.|
|1995–1996||Brian treated for Social Security disability status. Susan Marie Yasipour born 28 August 1996.|
|January 1999||Brian and Mellie separate; Mellie has primary custody.|
|June–October 2000||Brian restricted to supervised visitation after an attempt to kidnap Susan.|
|May 2001||Brian suffers stroke; his behavior becomes more erratic as custody litigation drags on.|
|24 August 2001||Brian kills Susan and is arrested the same evening.|
|2001–2002||Motion to suppress confession granted; Brian spends much of this time considered unfit to stand trial.|
|10 December 2002||Brian unsuccessfully challenges the divorce in a hearing; his courtroom declaration, the principal subject of this analysis, happens on this date.|
|22 February 2006||District Attorney waives the death penalty in exchange for a bench trial.|
|March 2006||Trial and verdict (third degree murder, and tampering with evidence).|
|June 2006||Brian sentenced to 22 and a half years, with time served.|
|August 2008||BBrian’s 2008 appeal rejected by Pennsylvanian Superior Court.|
|2 August 2014||Brian dies of natural causes in Laurel-Highlands prison facility, Pennsylvania. He had suffered for years with untreated diabetes prior to his first stroke in 2001, and had several strokes while in prison.|
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Amin, C.M. Gender, Madness, Religion, and Iranian-American Identity: Observations on a 2006 Murder Trial in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Soc. Sci. 2017, 6, 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030085
Amin CM. Gender, Madness, Religion, and Iranian-American Identity: Observations on a 2006 Murder Trial in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Social Sciences. 2017; 6(3):85. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030085Chicago/Turabian Style
Amin, Camron Michael. 2017. "Gender, Madness, Religion, and Iranian-American Identity: Observations on a 2006 Murder Trial in Williamsport, Pennsylvania" Social Sciences 6, no. 3: 85. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030085