Trial opens in 1990 slaying of teacher at Tucson mosque

2012-12-12T00:00:00Z 2014-09-05T15:33:13Z Trial opens in 1990 slaying of teacher at Tucson mosqueKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 12, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Soad Rayan Khalifa cried softly Tuesday afternoon as she recalled the long ago day she found her brother dead on the floor of the mosque where he studied and taught.

He was on his back with "many, many stab wounds" evident from his neck down. His fingers were slashed horribly.

She remembered grabbing his hand and finding it cold.

Tuesday was the first day in the trial of Glen Francis, who is charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 31, 1990, death of Rashad Khalifa, 54.

During opening statements, Deputy Pima County Attorney Casey McGinley told jurors Khalifa's religious beliefs and teachings brought about his demise. He had received death threats from all over the world, in part because he believed two verses did not belong in the Quran.

"This is a case about many suspects, but the evidence only points to one killer," McGinley said.

In the months after Khalifa's death, McGinley said, many potential suspects were ruled out, but one remained intriguing because he disappeared the day of the slaying.

Benjamin Phillips had come to the mosque saying he wanted to learn more about Islam, but he sometimes seemed to know more than he let on, McGinley said. In addition, he sometimes spoke with a Jamaican accent and sometimes did not.

Phillips couldn't be located, however, and the case went cold.

At least until 1994, McGinley said.

That year the FBI in Dallas received a tip that a resident named J.Q. Wall might be Phillips, McGinley said.

Wall denied ever having been in Arizona, but he told agents he was aware of Khalifa's teachings and, as a Muslim, he "deserved what he got," McGinley said.

He provided agents a hair sample and fingerprints but disappeared the next day.

Although agents weren't able to track him down, they were able to confirm Wall and Phillips were the same person.

Twelve years later, Phillips was linked to blood evidence found at the murder scene through DNA analysis, McGinley said.

Eventually, Phillips was arrested in Canada and his real name, Glen Francis, was discovered.

Assistant Pima County Public Defender Paul Skitzki asked jurors to pay particular attention to the DNA evidence in the case. He asked them to pay attention to how the evidence was collected, if mistakes could have been made or if there was another explanation for how the DNA was left at the scene.

At the time of the slaying, Francis, 52, was living in the U.S. illegally, but Skitzki told the jury it doesn't necessarily follow that he's a murderer.

Soad Khalifa explained to jurors that her brother believed in the "beautification" of their religion. After studying the Quran for years, he found a mathematical code and came to believe two verses were satanic. In his English translation of the Quran, he removed those verses, she said.

Her brother also came to believe he was a messenger of God, although most Muslims believe Muhammad was God's last messenger, she testified. He also taught that people should follow the word of God and not that of human beings.

"Not only did they not like it, they hated it," she said of her brother's detractors. "They were outraged. 'How dare he!' "

Although her brother was concerned about the death threats, he took few precautions, she testified.

He didn't lock the mosque's doors despite the fact he preferred to study at 1 or 2 a.m.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning is presiding over the trial, which is expected to continue into next week.

"This is a case about many suspects, but the evidence only points to one killer."

Casey McGinley, deputy Pima County attorney

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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