This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As they drove past a crime scene at a Millcreek apartment complex in December, 25-year-old Karrar Thaer Suhail asked his former girlfriend whether she'd still talk to him if he were incarcerated for 25 years.
Suhail had a criminal record, the woman said, so she didn't think much of the question. But soon she'd learn that the victim at the crime scene was a man she'd met through Suhail, and at whose apartment she'd dropped off Suhail the night before.
Like Suhail, 46-year-old Alaa Alkhatawi was a member of the small, tight-knit Iraqi community in the Salt Lake area. He sold prescription narcotics from his apartment, near 3350 South and 900 East, informants told police, and Suhail was one of his customers.
Suhail is accused of murdering him.
On Tuesday, Suhail entered in 3rd District Court a plea of not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, all first-degree felonies, and obstructing justice, a second-degree felony. The case was bound over for trial after the preliminary hearing.
On the evening of Dec. 9, police found Alkhatawi dead, lying on his back on his kitchen floor with 40 stab wounds. His feet were propped against the back door of the home, and there were bloody footprints, apparently left by athletic shoes, throughout the house, Unified police Detective Jared Stillion testified. Alkhatawi was stabbed nine times in the neck, including a strike that severed his carotid artery and nicked his jugular vein, charges state.
There was no evidence of forced entry, Stillion said, but furniture had been pushed out of its typical arrangement, indicating that there had been a struggle in the apartment. Though Alkhatawi had been prescribed more than 6,000 prescription narcotics pills in 2016, police found no pills in the home. Alkhatawi's wallet and phone were missing, Stillion said.
Witnesses on Tuesday described Suhail as a man addicted to pain pills, whose income was inconsistent and who would periodically borrow money from other members of the Iraqi community though he had a record of paying it back. Suhail would often carry small knives, with blades 3 inches long or so, one witness said, because he needed something to cut the pills he inhaled.
Suhail's former girlfriend testified that she'd dropped him off after 10 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Alkhatawi's apartment, and another man at the home said Suhail had left about 20 minutes later, after Suhail and Alkhatawi had gone into to the kitchen and came back "smiling." There had been no obvious dispute between the men, the witness said, and shortly after Suhail left, the witness went home.
Alkhatawi sent him a text message, the witness added, to be sure he'd gotten home safely that night.
According to charges, an informant told police that in the early hours of Dec. 9, he'd gone to Alkhatawi's home and saw Suhail walk away from the residence.
Suhail's former girlfriend met with him during her lunch break later that day to get money for their son's child care, and she noticed a small abrasion on the right side of his neck that looked like a hickey.
She asked him about it, the woman told the court, and he responded, "It's not a hickey; I got in a fight." He didn't offer additional details, and she didn't press the issue, she said.
On Dec. 10, Suhail described information about Alkhatawi's death that had not been publicly released, the witness said, including where the man had been stabbed and how many times Alkhatawi was stabbed in the neck.
Suhail was arrested and jailed Dec. 13 on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon and on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance after police allegedly found him with 42 Xanax pills and a large folding knife.
During an interview, Suhail told a detective he was under the influence of "Oxy," adding that he "goes crazy" if he doesn't get his pills, charges state, and that he constantly has to borrow money from people to buy pills.
Suhail also gave inconsistent statements about contact he'd had with the victim before his death, Stillion testified. Over the course of the extensive interview, Suhail first said he'd gone to Alkhatawi's home about 7 p.m. and knocked several times, but no one answered the door. Later, Suhail recanted and said Alkhatawi did answer, gave him a couple of pills to avoid withdrawals and told him to go away because Alkhatawi was expecting company, according to Stillion. Then, later in the interview, Suhail again denied that Alkhatawi had come to the door.
Suhail is scheduled to appear at a pretrial conference on May 5 before Judge Todd Shaughnessy.