Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Sailor admits to
killing his wife

The 14-year veteran faces life
for killing his wife's mother

Islamic leader denounces deal

A Pearl Harbor sailor admitted yesterday to killing his wife last summer by beating her with a skillet, and her mother by repeatedly stabbing her with a steak knife.

In a hearing, Petty Officer 2nd Class David DeArmond, 33, also admitted to a charge of abuse of a corpse, saying he had sex with his wife's body after he killed her during an early morning argument on June 10.

In exchange, DeArmond will not face capital punishment for the two deaths.

There have been no executions from courts-martial held in Hawaii since 1950. Capital punishment was abolished in Hawaii in 1957.

The military also agreed to drop charges of attempted rape and obstruction of a criminal investigation.

DeArmond, who was a hull technician at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, will be sentenced during the first week of June by a jury of at least five enlisted sailors and officers.

A 14-year Navy veteran, DeArmond faces the maximum sentence of life for pleading guilty to the charge of intentionally murdering his mother-in-law, Saniah Binte Abdul Ghani, 66.

In the case of his wife, Zaleha, 31, DeArmond agreed to a manslaughter conviction, which carries a maximum jail term of 15 years.

During the nearly three-hour hearing yesterday at Pearl Harbor's Trial Services Office, DeArmond told Navy Capt. Michael Hinkley, the military judge who presided over the court-martial: "I am sorry for what I have done. I accept responsibility."

"I made love to my wife," DeArmond told the judge when he was asked what he did to her body.

"Was she dead?" the judge asked him.

"Yes," he replied.

DeArmond was asked by the judge about each of the counts he was pleading guilty to.

His defense attorney, Lt. Col. Peter Delorier, had to request two recesses so DeArmond could compose himself before they got to the charge dealing with the abuse of his wife's body.

Zaleha DeArmond was killed first, during a domestic argument on the second floor of the couple's Leal Place townhouse, located near Nimitz Gate.

Her mother tried to intervene by attacking DeArmond with a steak knife.

DeArmond told the judge that he hit his wife repeatedly "to get away from here."

When his mother-in-law attacked him with a knife, he took it from her and stabbed her five times in the stomach and five times in her right side.

Last year, Zaleha DeArmond got a restraining order against her husband, citing a 1994 incident in San Diego where he was placed on three-month probation for abusing and choking his first wife.

DeArmond said during earlier pretrial hearings he was afraid that if he divorced his second wife, she would return to her native Singapore with their three children.

DeArmond said he believed that his wife was seeing sailors whom she met at a Pearl Harbor "single sailors' bar," where she worked as a waitress.

DeArmond met Zaleha DeArmond in San Diego, and the two were married in 1996.

Zaleha DeArmond's 90-year-old father also had been living with the couple until he returned to Singapore in January 2002.

Her mother was killed a day before she was supposed to return to Singapore.


Islamic leader denounces
manslaughter deal

A local Islamic leader said there was discrimination against Muslims behind the Navy prosecutor's decision not to press for the death penalty for a sailor charged with killing his wife and mother-in-law.

The local Islamic community learned last week that Navy attorneys reached a plea agreement that provides imprisonment, rather than capital punishment, for Navy Petty Officer David DeArmond in return for his guilty pleas, which were entered yesterday before a military judge.

The victims, Zaleha DeArmond, 31, and her mother, Saniah Binte Abdul Ghani, 66, were both Muslim and from Singapore.

Zaleha DeArmond's brother and 90-year-old father in Singapore was notified of the plea agreement Saturday by a Navy attorney and shared the news with Hawaii Muslims.

"It is an outrage," said Hakim Ouansafi, president of the Muslim Association of Hawaii. "I doubt the deal would have been struck if the victims were American Catholic women.

"The Navy took care of their own," Ouansafi said.

He said he expects his outrage will be shared by non-Muslims as well as by national Muslim organizations that have chronicled incidents of discrimination and harassment in the United States.

Although the murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, the family was told that the agreement between the government and DeArmond calls for a 30-year prison term, Ouansafi said.

The Navy lawyer's message to the Singapore family also pointed out that the military panel to be convened in June could sentence him to a longer or shorter term.

A shorter term imposed by the sentencing panel would prevail, the brother was told.

Military prosecutors urged that members of the Singapore family come to Hawaii to testify at the sentencing hearing, Ouansafi said.

A June custody hearing is also planned to determine where the DeArmond children -- ages 5, 3 and 2 at the time of their mother's death -- will live.

They are now living with foster parents.


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