Prosecution witnesses continue testifying in Imam's murder - Tucson News Now

Prosecution witnesses continue testifying in Tucson imam's murder

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Testimony resumes Thursday in the trial of a man accused of murdering a Tucson imam nearly 23 years ago.

Dr Rashad Khalifa was found dead in January 1990 in his mosque near the University of Arizona.

His mathematical interpretation of the Koran that led to his removing two verses from the book remains controversial to this day.

Suspect Glen Francis was extradited from Canada last year.

Investigators say he started studying with Khalifa under an assumed name shortly before the murder.

Prosecutors say DNA evidence ties Francis to the crime.

He's charged with first degree murder.

The 54-year-old Khalifa was found stabbed to death in his mosque at Sixth Street and Euclid Avenue on January 31, 1990.

Francis had been at the mosque for a few weeks before the murder, then disappeared.

People at the mosque knew him by another name, Benjamin Phillips.

Prosecution witnesses took the stand Wednesday.

One testified that he realized the man he knew as Phillips had acted suspiciously from the start, acting as if he knew nothing about Islam,then revealing he did.

The witnesses who also were members of Khalifa's mosque said Khalifa had received numerous death threats because of his interpretation of the Koran.

The witnesses said they feared for his life.

One witness' worst fears were realized when he saw police cars and fire trucks at the mosque as he returned to the mosque after work, and discovered what had happened. 

"What's happening? Maybe there was a fire. And I immediately run towards the mosque and an officer stop me and I shaking and worrying," Mahmoud Ali Abib testified before he broke down and wept.

The witness who discovered the body also testified Wednesday.

Khalifa's body had been doused with a flammable liquid, but not set on fire.

The witness, Lisa Spray Giles, was a secretary at the mosque and a member too.

She told the court what happened when she entered the building.

"The first thing that I noticed was a smell," Giles said.

Prosecutor Casey McGinley asked, "Can you describe that for us?"

Giles answered, "Um actually it was a strange smell. Something I had really never smelled before. very strong acetone, kerosene type. A solvent smell."

Giles testified she was in the kitchen area of the mosque and saw the knobs on the stove were all turned on, but the burners were not lit.

The defense pointed out Wednesday that Francis had applied for an Arizona driver's license and ordered cable TV and got a job.

The defense attorney asked why anyone who had come to Tucson to commit murder would leave such a big paper trail.

If he's convicted, Francis could get 25 years to life in prison.

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