Chatham Arson Trial Sentencing
A used-car salesman from Coventry who murdered his estranged wife, their son and his father-in-law by setting fire to their home following the collapse of their marriage has been jailed for life.
A judge told Iraqi-born triple killer Danai Muhammadi, 24, that he will spend at least 38 years behind bars before being eligible for parole.
Fuelled by anger, spite and resentment, he killed Melissa Crook, 20, and their 15-month-old son Noah by torching the house in Chatham Hill, Chatham, Kent.
Mrs Crook's father Mark Crook, 49, was left critically ill with severe burns in hospital following the fire just before 2.30am on September 10 last year. He died six days later.
Sentencing at Maidstone Crown Court, Judge Mr Justice Sweeney said: "`It can truly be described as pure, selfish wickedness.''
Muhammadi and his friend, nightclub bouncer Farhad Mahmud, 35, squirted petrol through the letterbox using a garden sprayer before igniting it, leading to fire breaking out at the base of the stairs. Flames cut off any escape route for the family who were asleep upstairs at the time as fire and dense smoke filled the three-bedroom property.
Last month, Muhammadi and Mahmud were each found guilty of three counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder in relation to Mrs Crook's mother Amanda, 50, and brother Bohdan, 22, who survived. Mahmud was given 34 years
Muhammadi's girlfriend, Emma Smith, 22, was convicted of three counts of manslaughter but cleared of murder and attempted murder following a six-week trial. She was given 14 years
Mahmud was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 34 years prison before being eligible for parole.
Addressing Muhammadi and Mahmud, the judge said that they had been convicted on "overwhelming'' evidence. Mr Justice Sweeney acknowledged that Muhammadi was the "principal offender'', adding: "The enterprise was all your idea and you drove it forward to its conclusion.''
Addressing Muhammadi and Mahmud, the judge said that they had been convicted on "overwhelming'' evidence.
He said: ``No-one who heard the evidence in this case will ever forget Mrs Crook's description of how, as he tried to escape, her husband became stuck in the bedroom window and how, unable to extricate himself, she had to stand and watch as his lower half was burned.''
The judge said that as Melissa Crook and Noah were trapped by the flames, their last moments must have been "of abject terror''.
He added: "It's no thanks to you two that Amanda Crook and Bohdan Crook escaped the fate that you intended for them.
"Each suffered significant injuries, the effects - whether physical or mental - they are still clearly suffering from today.''
Mr Justice Sweeney acknowledged that Muhammadi was the "principal offender'', adding: "The enterprise was all your idea and you drove it forward to its conclusion.''
He said that Mahmud's actions were borne out of "misguided friendship'' with Muhammadi and his expectation of significant financial gain from him.
The Crook family had been nothing but welcoming to Muhammadi, the judge went on.
"They did nothing to deserve what you did to them.''
With his pride wounded and his control over his wife gone, Muhammadi formulated a plan that if she would not return to him "no-one would'', the judge said.
Prosecutors said at the trial that the arson was a ``wicked attack'' which had been well planned following the breakdown of Muhammadi and Mrs Crook's marriage.
Six months earlier, she decided to move out of their home in Coventry with their son and return to her parents' home in Chatham after Muhammadi slapped her around the face after she refused to have sex with him one night.
In the months following their split, Muhammadi, of Britannia Street, Coventry, started a relationship with Smith but she became resentful of her new partner's attempts to patch up his marriage, jurors heard.
A series of angry text messages were exchanged between Smith, of Barley Lea, Stoke Aldermoor, Coventry, and Mrs Crook in the days and weeks leading up to the arson, in which Smith taunted her love rival.
Muhammadi travelled from Coventry to Kent with Smith late on September 9, after loading the spray container in the boot of his Renault Megane. They headed to Mahmud's flat in Fernhill Road, Maidstone.
At 2.03am, the Megane was caught at a Texaco garage in Chatham where more than £15 of petrol was poured into two containers, including the garden sprayer.
Minutes later, the fire was set. Petrol was sprayed about four feet into the terraced house through the letterbox before flames ignited at the base of the stairs.
Mahmud telephoned Smith, who by this time was still at his flat in Maidstone.
Seconds after that call finished, she dialled 999 from a pre-paid mobile phone reporting that she had spotted a house on fire.
As the fire ripped through the building, Bohdan jumped out of a front bedroom window, causing fractures to his feet and hands. He then tried to reach his mother inside but she eventually escaped.
Meanwhile, Mrs Crook collapsed in an upstairs bedroom and she was found dead by firefighters lying with her young son who was wrapped in a quilt.
Her heavily built father tried to flee but he was caught by a fireball which erupted as he tried to escape through an upstairs window on to a flat roof. He later died in hospital.
His widow told the court: "I stood and watched him burn. I saw the windows melt. As Mark came through the window, there was a fireball which blew the windows out and engulfed him.
"I was screaming at someone to 'Get the children out, get the children out'. It seemed like time had stopped, like time had stood still.''
In an effort to eliminate himself from suspicion, Muhammadi texted Mrs Crook, writing: "Hi mel, hope you both well. Can I book the hotel for 22 September. Let me know please. Love you, mate. Give Noah (a) hug and kiss from me. X.''
Prosecutor Mark Dennis QC described it as a "cynical and breathtaking attempt'' to protect himself from suspicion of the fatal fire he set just hours earlier.
Around the same time, texts were exchanged between Muhammadi and Mahmud who provided his bank details to apparently receive payment for fulfilling his part of the deal.
During his evidence, Muhammadi proclaimed his love for son, calling him his "great love''. Breaking down, he said: ``He meant everything to me and I was very happy.
It was clear, however, that Muhammadi had thoughts of extreme violence. Up to three months before the fire, he told one workmate he wanted to harm his estranged wife, telling them he was going to throw acid in her face."
And he also spoke about setting fire to her house about three weeks before the fatal blaze but the colleague did not take him seriously.
Jurors were told that after spending his childhood in Iran, Muhammadi arrived in the UK in 2005 aged 18 and at first lived in Hull where he worked in a cucumber factory and a chicken factory.
Two years later, he moved to Maidstone and met Mrs Crook when she was then aged 16. The pair moved to Coventry in June 2008 and they married in September the following year.
Smith showed no emotion as she was jailed for 14 years.
The judge told her: "You joined the enterprise because you were the girlfriend of Danai Muhammadi.
"It was an on-off relationship in which, as I have already said when passing his sentence, he used you to get Melissa back.''
The judge said that while she was not the principal figure, she was a "joint perpetrator in the common venture to burn the house''.
Like both Muhammadi and Mahmud, Smith had shown not "a spark of genuine remorse'' for her actions, Mr Justice Sweeney added.