Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Standish man tried for murder

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Santanu Basu of Standish is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend to allegedly collect on a life insurance policy. The trial started Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court, with prosecutor Lisa Marchese telling jurors that Basu, 34, had killed Azita Jamshab, 29, a resident of Westbrook, to get money to pay off large debts.

“Santanu executed Azita Jamshab by plotting and planning her death for the insurance proceeds,” Marchese said.

Marchese told jurors Basu made a “to-do” list the day he sold Jamshab her insurance policy, on which he was listed as the primary beneficiary, according to the Associated Press. The items on the list, including ammunition and a rental car, were directly related to Jamshab’s death two months later, Marchese said.

Jamshab, who prosecutors allege was in a romantic relationship with Basu, was shot to death and dumped out of a rental car – similar to one Basu rented that day – in a gravel pit just over the Windham line in Cumberland, March 6, 2002.

Her body was found the following day by a Windham man who lived nearby.

Basu asked a friend to tell police they were together the night Jamshab was killed, Marchese said, and later told that friend he had killed a woman for life insurance money.

Defense attorney Karen Dostaler told jurors the prosecution had to presume that Basu is innocent until they were convinced otherwise. She said the prosecution’s case was based on unsubstantiated theories and urged jurors to “test the evidence” by deciding for themselves if they thought testimony and other evidence was truthful.

Kate Bailey, a friend and coworker of the murdered woman at the Smart Styles hair salon at the Scarborough Wal-Mart, testified Monday that Jamshab had planned to go out to dinner with Basu on the evening of March 6, 2002.

Basu, a salesman for Nationwide Insurance, was Jamshab’s insurance agent, Bailey said. “She was trying to tie up some last minute things for her move” to Las Vegas, planned for the following week, Bailey said.

Jamshab did not turn up at work the following morning, and Bailey became worried. Also worried, Bailey said, was Jamshab’s friend, Amhad “Khoji” Khojaspehzad, who began calling the salon that morning, asking where Jamshab was.

Khojaspehzad denied that he was Jamshab’s boyfriend, but said they had a sexual relationship. Both were divorced, and they and their ex-spouses still lived in Southern Maine and were in the small Iranian expatriate social circle here, said Khojaspehzad, who lived in Windham until earlier this year.

Khojaspehzad was named as a contingent beneficiary on Jamshab’s life insurance policy. Basu was the primary beneficiary, who stood to collect
$100,000 if Jamshab died, according to testimony Monday.

Both men had debts far larger than their incomes, according to testimony.

Under questioning by Dostaler, Khojaspehzad said he had filed to collect on the life insurance “March 8 or 9,” very shortly after Jamshab’s body was found. He knew that the only way he could collect was if Basu was convicted of murdering Jamshab or was himself dead, Khojaspehzad told the court.

He hadn’t wanted to be on the policy and had urged Jamshab to make her parents, who live in Iran, the beneficiaries. Monday he said he would give the money to Jamshab’s family if he received any.

Khojaspehzad last spoke to Jamshab at about 8 p.m., March 6, 2002, he testified. He tried to call several times later and again the next day, but was unable to reach Jamshab.

Worried, he went to Jamshab’s apartment in Westbrook and saw her car there. He broke into the apartment, thinking he might find clues about her whereabouts, but “there was no sign of her.”

From her apartment, he took a videotape he had taken of Jamshab the previous week, in which she called him “honey,” because he didn’t want anyone to see it, Khojaspehzad testified. He also took a note with Persian and Farsi writing on it, again because he wanted to keep it private, he said. He later gave both to police.

The trial is expected to continue all week.