Brutal attack shatters family

Relatives await husband's sentence

September 21, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

Samira Salmassi, 40, scrunches up like a baby in the womb, her toes permanently curled, her fists clenched. Her head does not turn, but her brown eyes dart back and forth, seemingly scanning the ceiling.

When she moans, the haunting sounds fill the room in Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital in Baltimore.

Salmassi is brain-dead, the result of a near-fatal beating by her ex-husband, whose sentencing in Howard County Circuit Court for attempted second-degree murder was postponed last week.

Members of her family are determined to see the process through.

"We are going to be there - all my brothers and sisters," the injured woman's sister, Sima Salmassi, said of the sentencing, now scheduled for October. "I pray to God that he gets the maximum that there is for what he has done because my sister was a normal person and he just destroyed it all."

A little more than a year ago, Ghafour Asemani, the ex-husband, walked into the small lobby at Howard County police headquarters and told the officer sitting behind the glass window that he had killed his wife.

Asemani had taped his ex-wife's telephone conversations with other men the night before and, after failing to calm his rage, choked her as she finished her morning shower. Police found the bathroom door locked, the shower curtain closed, the lights on and the exhaust fan humming.

Through the door, they could hear Salmassi moaning. For more than a year, it has been the only sound she has made.

"She sometimes responds to voices," said Sima Salmassi. She said the family wants to keep her sister, who couldn't survive without a feeding tube, alive as long as possible.

Asemani, 38, formerly of Town & Country Boulevard in Ellicott City, pleaded guilty in April after prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of attempted first-degree murder. He is being held at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a state psychiatric facility in Jessup.

He could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

"It's not murder, but [Salmassi is] never going to be the same," said Detective Cpl. Gordon Carpenter, who handled the case.

The crime is one of many tragedies the Salmassi and Asemani families have endured.

Sima Salmassi is fighting for guardianship of her sister after previous guardians - her parents and then her brother - failed to notify the court that they could no longer care for her.

Before returning to Iran for what was supposed to have been a short visit this year, Salmassi's parents scribbled a letter transferring responsibility for her to their 44-year-old son, Siamack.

But while in Iran, Samira Salmassi's 79-year-old father, Akbar, suffered a stroke that left him unable to walk. The son flew to Iran to care for his parents without notifying the court.

During a guardianship hearing July 31, an attorney for Levindale described a family in disarray and a cadre of nurses unable to reach relatives for critical medical decisions.

The hospital asked Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney to transfer guardianship from the Salmassi family to the Department of Social Services, which has control until Sweeney makes a decision. Another guardianship hearing is scheduled Sept. 29.

Sima Salmassi, 45, who is a waitress at two upscale restaurants in Cincinnati, tried to convince Sweeney that the family's series of mistakes would stop with her.

"I'm not living job-to-job or house-to-house," she said. "I have not forsaken my sister."

As for her sister's three children, ages 8 to 13, her parents left them in the custody of their 25-year-old adopted brother, Abdolhassan Chini, and did not take care of the paperwork.

According to court records, custody was belatedly transferred so that Chini could sign-off on the children's applications to the Milton Hershey School, an orphanage-turned-boarding school for the poor founded by the chocolate maker in Hershey, Pa.

The three children live in an apartment with Chini, according to Sima Salmassi, and receive financial support from an affluent uncle who lives in Howard County. They have not been taken to see their mother.

The family's troubles, however, began long before Salmassi and Asemani's divorce.

Samira Salmassi moved to Maryland from Jackson, Miss., to be closer to her parents and younger sister while her husband served a 2 1/2 -year sentence in federal prison for mail and health-care fraud. Asemani had been posing as a dentist, telling Mississippi authorities that he had received his degree from a university in Tehran.

State and federal officials became suspicious, however, after patients filed multiple civil suits against Asemani for botched procedures. These included the removal of three good teeth from one victim, who was awarded $100,000, and a botched root canal that caused a woman to bleed for two weeks.

While Asemani was in prison, Salmassi divorced her husband of 10 years, stating in court records that he had converted from Islam to the Bahai Faith and that Muslim law prevented her from remaining married to him.

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