Typically, honor killings occur in African or Middle Eastern countries. They occur when male members of a family feel “dishonored” by a female member of the family. A young woman will abandon an arranged marriage. She will post to social media too often. Or the clothes she wears will show a little too much. The excuses for these heinous murders are both numerous and complex. And in 2011, Houston, Texas was the site of two murders that prosecutors were quick to label: honor killings.
Mahwood-Awad Irsan was disappointed when his 23-year-old daughter, Nesreen Irsan, fled home to be with her boyfriend, Coty Beavers. Why was it such a big deal? Coty was American-born — and a Christian. Nesreen converted to his faith to make their relationship more tenable. But it had the opposite effect for her father.
Gelareh Bagherzadeh was an Iranian women’s rights activist who championed Nesreen’s desire to convert to Christianity, but she was found dead. Police considered it likely that her murder was politically motivated by hate groups in the area. They didn’t even begin to connect the dots until ten months later, when Beavers was found dead in his apartment in 2012.
It was then that investigators started looking into Ali.
Nesreen told them that her father had been agitated over her relationship with an American man, her departure from home, and her conversion to Christianity. She said that he believed the two murdered individuals had stained his family’s honor, and that she and Beavers had always feared for their lives. Ali, she said, had a known history of violence.
Before the murders, Nesreen had asked authorities for a writ of protection against her father. This prevented Ali from having access to guns — but it was too late for that. After Beavers was found murdered, police obtained a warrant to search Ali’s property in Conroe. They found something more damning than firearms inside, though: they found an envelope with at least two license plate numbers and addresses, belonging to Bagherzadeh and Beavers.
The dots were finally connected. This man was obviously responsible somehow.
Harris County Special Prosecutor Anna Emmons described the raid to the documentary, A Wedding and a Murder: “So that one piece of evidence, that envelope, connected Ali to both Coty and to Gelareh, who were both dead.”
Later, Ali was taken into custody and charged with capital murder for the two killings. His wife, hoping to avoid charges as an accessory to murder, decided to testify against Ali in return for a plea deal. During a subsequent trial, she described his perhaps poorly laid out plan to murder Nesreen as well, noting that he only failed because he couldn’t sabotage her car successfully.
But it turned out that Ali’s son, Nasim, was involved in the murders as well. It wasn’t until August of this year that Nasim pleaded guilty to the murder of Bagherzadeh. The arrests haven’t helped Nesreen feel safer — she lives in isolation for fear of reprisal.
Irsan was sentenced to death.