Nesreen Irsan told federal authorities she was a prisoner in her Montgomery County home, under the strict control of her devout Muslim father, Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan. In June 2011, while Irsan was away visiting his native Jordan, Nesreen's mother and sister discovered voicemails, emails and text messages between Nesreen and her soon-to-be husband Coty Beavers, a Christian.
Nesreen knew her father would punished her when he returned, so one day she escaped out a bathroom window, according to testimony federal officials gave in court last year. The next month, Nesreen and Beavers married. Soon afterward, the couple got a protective order against Irsan.
What followed was a relentless campaign by Irsan -- aided by his wife, 21-year-old son, and another daughter, authorities say -- to track down his daughter and reclaim his family's honor. Irsan not only blamed Beavers for his daughter's escape, according to authorities, but he also targeted one of Nesreen's best friends, Gelareh Bagherzadeh, a 30-year-old Iranian-American activist and Christian convert who berated Irsan for thinking he could control his daughter.
On Wednesday, more than three years after Bagherzadeh was gunned down as she pulled into her parents' Galleria-area townhome complex, authorities charged Irsan, his wife, and his 21-year-old son Nasim in the killing. Authorities say Irsan, who has been charged with capital murder, also killed Beavers, his daughter's 28-year-old husband, just 11 months after Bagherzadeh's slaying.
Flanked by FBI and Homeland Security officials in a press conference on Wednesday, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said the killings are unlike anything she's ever seen. "The family involvement, the lengths that were gone to to commit these murders, the premeditation. ... The efforts are unprecedented."
It's unclear why the investigation into Bagherzadeh's killing, in which authorities offered the highest Crime Stopper's award in history, languished for years. While Bagherzadeh's murder fueled conspiracy theories that authorities in Iran had ordered the activist's assassination, it appears Irsan was a prime suspect (or at least should have been considered one) from the very beginning.
Shortly after Nesreen left his control, Irsan and certain family members sought desperately to find her, despite the protective order. They canvassed Beaver's mother's Spring neighborhood with flyers, offering to pay up to $100 for information leading to Nesreen's whereabouts. Irsan had even called Bagherzadeh demanding to know where his daughter was. As Anderson put it Wednesday, "She refused to help him and berated him for even thinking that he should be able to control his daughter."
Last year, a SWAT team raided Irsan's Montgomery County home, ostensibly in order to investigate an elaborate Social Security scam. But in federal court hearings last year, authorities had begun to lay out some of the evidence tying Irsan to the deaths of Bagherzadeh and Beavers.
According to authorities who testified in one federal court hearing, shortly after Nesreen ran away from her father her 30-year-old sister Nadia contacted numerous classmates of Nesreen's at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, wanting to know who took Nesreen to school and asking about her class schedule. Bagherzadeh and Nesreen both studied molecular genetics at UTMD Anderson and had become close friends. Bagherzadeh was even dating the twin brother of Nesreen's husband; testimony in federal court indicates Nadia harbored a "romantic interest" in Bagherzadeh's boyfriend and even sent him nude photographs.
Federal authorities claim Nadia eventually tried to get Nesreen kicked out of school by claiming Nesreen had attempted to poison and kill her father, according to court testimony. (Montgomery County officials and UTMD Anderson police investigated the claim and determined the allegation was unfounded). At one point, according to federal court testimony, Bagherzadeh confronted the family, questioning why they would want Nesreen kicked off campus. Nesreen was apparently so spooked she didn't even attend her own graduation out of fear her family might show up.
Nadia was charged Wednesday with stalking her sister while using a firearm.
On January 16, 2012, Bagherzadeh was shot several times through the passenger window of her car while turning into her parents' townhome complex. Witnesses told police they saw a silver car flee the scene of Bagherzadeh's killing. About 45 minutes later, according to federal court testimony, Irsan and his wife were stopped by a DPS trooper while driving a silver car on I-45 northbound, headed to Conroe (HPD homicide detectives later drove the route at the same time of night, and confirmed it took about 45 minutes to drive from the murder scene to the spot where Irsan was stopped).
Eleven months later, Beavers was found dead in the apartment he shared with Nesreen. He'd been shot multiple times. (The Chron reports that Beavers had even told family and friends that if he was ever found dead, Irsan was to blame.)
Harris County had charged Irsan in Bagherzadeh's murder last year right as the feds indicted Irsan and his family members on fraud charges, but the Harris County DA's office dismissed that murder charge last November without explanation. It appears that decision was purely strategic -- while Anderson on Wednesday wouldn't explain why that case was dropped, only to be re-filed as a capital murder charge against Irsan months later, she did say, "We do what's best for our cases, dismissing it was in the best interest for the victims and for the case."
Anderson said officials with the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office are currently investigating the 1999 shooting death of another of Irsan's sons-in-law. Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant, however, told the Houston Press Wednesday that the office had already presented any evidence it had to a grand jury, which no-billed the case shortly after the killing. "Ethically, we would have to have new evidence before re-presenting a case to a grand jury," he said, adding that Montgomery County officials are working with Harris County and closely watching the case to see if any new evidence shakes out in the ongoing investigation.
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On Wednesday, Anderson said the murders of both Bagherzadeh and Beavers were part of "an ongoing conspiracy" orchestrated by Irsan to hunt down his daughter and those close to her "because he believed that she and others, including the two victims, had violated his honor as a Muslim."
Irsan's defense attorney John T. Floyd told the Chron, "Attributing motivation in the climate we are in to Islam or my client's Muslim beliefs are outrageous and intended to incite fear and I think it's very troublesome."
The Beavers family issued this statement after news of the charges broke yesterday:
"We miss Coty and Gelareh everyday. The actions of these individuals have created a tremendous void in our family that can never be filled. We know this is the beginning of a long process but we are happy about the recent events. A huge burden has been lifted knowing those responsible are off the streets."