Trial underway:Testimony begins in attempted murder case

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Mohammad Salimullah glances toward the gallery while awaiting the start of his trial Monday in Hillsborough County Superior Court South. At left is one of his lawyers, Attorney Stephen Rosecan, while Salimullah's interpreter is at right.

NASHUA – After sketching out on paper the basic layout of the East Pearl Street apartment in which Nashua resident Mohammad Salimullah allegedly tried to kill his wife in 2013, defense Attorney Stephen Rosecan asked the now ex-wife why, as she was bleeding profusely from the neck, she was OK with sitting on a couch “just a second or two away” from her alleged attacker.

Rosecan’s cross-examination of Salimullah’s former wife, who was a teenager when the two wed in an arranged marriage in their native Malaysia, came during Monday’s first day of testimony in Salimullah’s jury trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court South.

Salimullah, who turned 41 earlier this month, is charged with five felony offenses, including attempted murder, accusing him of covering her mouth with one hand, grabbing a kitchen knife in the other and slashing her throat, allegedly because she wanted to divorce him.

He also is facing two counts of first-degree assault, alleging he “knowingly caused bodily injury” to the woman by slashing her throat and lacerating four of her fingers during the struggle; one count of second-degree assault, accusing him of “recklessly” cutting her fingers with a knife; and one count of reckless conduct, which alleges he placed her in danger of serious bodily injury by causing lacerations to her hands, according to the indictments.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup First Assistant County Attorney Leslie Gill holds the knife with which Mohammad Salimullah allegedly attacked his now ex-wife in August 2013. Gill was giving her opening statement to the jury in Salimullah's first day of trial Monday.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today. Court officials said Monday that it’s unlikely the court will close due to weather, but if it does, the information will be posted on the state judicial system website.

Rosecan, who is representing Salimullah with Attorney Michael Davidow, told the jury during his opening statement that the actions of two people who were present that night “contradict (the woman’s) story of what happened.”

The people are the woman’s sister and brother-in-law, who had also come to Nashua from their native Malaysia, and were living with them at the time.

Rosecan pointed out that it took the brother-in-law more than an hour to call 911, even though the alleged victim was bleeding heavily and trying to stop it by holding towels to her neck and hand.

Instead, according to testimony, he placed nine phone calls, according to Rosecan. At least three were to people “from the community,” a reference to members of Nashua’s fairly closely-knit Rohingya community, which includes immigrants from Malaysia.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Defense Attorney Stephen Rosecan shows the jury in the Mohammad Salimullah attempted murder trial evidence photos during Monday's first day of trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court South.

None of the people he called answered, according to testimony, and a short time later he called 911.

“The issue here is whether what they tell you matches their actions,” he said, referring to the woman’s sister and brother in law. Rosecan asked the jury to “evaluate not only their words, but their actions, their different stories.

“When you do so, you’ll see that their stories don’t add up,” he said. “They don’t add up to anything but doubt – reasonable doubt, about what happened.”

But First Assistant County Attorney Leslie Gill, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant County Attorney Michele Battaglia, characterized the alleged crimes as a case of “if he couldn’t have her, nobody could.

“He couldn’t live without her. They would die together,” Gill told the jury in her opening statement.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup The neck wound sustained by the woman whom Mohammad Salimullah allegedly stabbed in 2013 is shown on a screen during the first day of Salimullah's trial Monday. Salimullah, second from left, listens to an interpreter. At left is Attorney Stephen Rosecan; Attorney Michael Davidow is at right.

The alleged victim “wasn’t getting out of that marriage alive.”

Gill described a culture far different than what most Americans know when it comes to things like marriage and divorce.

Now 27, the alleged victim was 23 and had been married to Salimullah for six years at the time of the incident. A slight woman who wore her long black hair pulled back, she was the first witness called to testify Monday.

Three Hindi interpreters were on hand for the proceedings, two who alternated with Salimullah and one who was assigned to the alleged victim, who said she is studying English and was able to testify mostly in English.

She told the court she was unhappy for most of her marriage to Salimullah, who is roughly 13 years her senior. Her parents arranged the marriage; she told Gill she met Salimullah “only two times” before they were wed.

Asked if she had a choice in the matter, she said “no … it’s not in our religion to say no.”

The alleged victim said she had hopes their marriage “was going to be better” when they moved from Malaysia to Nashua in September 2012. But the couple had little in common, she said, and they didn’t see each other very often.

She said she first mentioned divorce about a week before the alleged attack. Salimullah, she said, responded by saying he wanted a divorce.

“I said fine … just leave me alone,” she said.

But her brother-in-law, she said, contacted local Rohingya people, and three agreed to meet with the two couples.

“What did they tell you?” Gill asked. “That it’s not easy to get a divorce. They have us one week to think about it,” she said, adding that she didn’t agree to do so because, “I no longer wanted to stay with him.”

On the night of the alleged attack, the woman said she came home to find Salimullah packing up his clothing, and asked what he was doing.

“He said he had to leave me in one week, so he was getting ready,” she said. “Were you surprised?” Gill asked. “Yes,” the woman answered, adding that he “was very sad.”

“Did he threaten you?” Gill asked. “No,” she said.

She testified she went to sleep around 10 p.m., but “got woke up when he had his hand on my mouth … I felt I had a sharp object on my neck. I felt (like) he was trying to kill me,” she said.

The woman said she tried unsuccessfully to grab the knife, then “I pushed him … and stood up, I turned on the light.”

She told Gill she asked Salimullah “what are you doing … why are you trying to kill me,” but he didn’t respond, she said.

She testified she then ran into the bedroom used by her sister and brother-in-law, woke them up and told them what happened.

The sister got towels for her, and the three went to the living room, at which time the brother-in-law went “to check” on Salimullah, she said.

Police, fire and ambulance personnel arrived moments after the brother-in-law called 911, she said. She was treated then taken to St. Joseph Hospital.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, or @Telegraph_DeanS.