Texas man accused of killing teen daughters testifies he was followed on night of shooting

·7 min read
Courtesy: WFAA-TV

A North Texas man accused of shooting his two daughters inside a taxi in 2008 told a jury Monday that he ran away from the cab the night they were killed because he thought someone was following him and planned to hurt him.

Yaser Said is on trial in Dallas in the deaths of his daughters, 17-year-old Sarah and 18-year-old Amina Said. Prosecutors allege Yaser Said shot Sarah nine times and shot Amina twice inside a taxi near an Irving hotel on the night of Jan. 1, 2008. After the shooting, Said was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, but eluded arrest for 12 years, authorities said.

Some family members testified the girls were victims of “honor killings” because their father thought they had brought shame to the family. The girls were dating people who were not Muslim, and the girls’ mother, Patricia Owens, testified last week that Yaser Said had threatened their daughters.

Monday marked the fifth day of the trial, which is being held in Criminal District Court No. 7 in Dallas. State prosecutors rested their case in the trial at about 11 a.m. Monday. At about 2:30 p.m., the court broke for the day and will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m. with closing arguments before the jury begins deliberating.

Said began testifying in his defense Monday afternoon. He spoke in Arabic, which an interpreter translated to English.

You can watch a video of the trial here:

Yasser Said testifies

Said answered questions from defense attorney Joseph Patton and prosecuting attorney Lauren Black through a translator.

When Patton asked Said if he killed his daughters, he said, “For sure, did not.”

According to Said, he was in the taxi with his daughters that night and on the way to dinner. He said he thought someone was following him and he stopped the car at a bus station near Highway 114 and Riverside Drive. He said he thought the people following them were his daughters’ friends, or they were people coming to “assassinate me.” He told his daughters they could take the taxi, he said, and got out of the car.

“I was thinking someone sent them after me to harm me, and not my girls,” Said said.

Said said he got out of the car and ran into a wooded area. He walked to a Waffle House, where he learned his daughters had been killed, Said said.

He said if he could go back, he would not make the same decision to run because “this was a very stupid decision to make.”

On cross-examination, Black pointed out that Said spoke to his then-wife — the girls’ mother — on the phone that night and did not mention he thought someone was following him. She also questioned why he left his handgun in the taxi if he felt he was in danger and why he didn’t use his phone to call for help. She pressed Said on the logic of leaving his daughters in a car if they could have been in danger.

“Did you love your daughters?” Black asked.

“Certainly,” he answered through his translator. “And my trips with them, my vacations with them, the hundreds of tapes I have of them and with them certainly prove it.”

“You didn’t show up to their funerals,” Black said in reply.

“Yes, because of the unfair and hateful media coverage at that time,” he said.

In opening statements, Black said Said was controlling, possessive and violent toward the girls. She asked Said about accusations from his ex-wife that he was abusive. He denied there was any violence in the family’s home.

When questioned about why he hid from law enforcement for 12 years, Said said he did not believe he would get a fair trial if he was arrested because of “prejudiced” media coverage of his case.

Hidden room

Said hid inside a secret room of his family’s house in Justin to elude arrest, according to FBI agents’ testimony Monday.

The FBI had previously been tipped off about Said’s whereabouts in 2017, but he disappeared again until August 2020, according to FBI testimony. The FBI knew Said had family members who lived in North Texas in cities that included Euless, Bedford, Haltom City and Southlake, an FBI agent testified Friday. Financial records tipped authorities off that the Said family had a home in Justin.

The FBI started surveillance of the Said family and tracked Said’s son and one of his brothers to a house in Justin that the Said family was leasing, FBI agent Randall White testified Monday. One night, FBI investigators saw the shadow of a figure walk across the house. Authorities also picked up a trash bag that Said’s family members had dumped in Southlake, as if trying to hide its contents, White said. When authorities opened the bag, they found food, cigarette butts and other trash.

On Aug. 26, 2020, a SWAT team set up around the house and set flash bangs off in the back yard to dissuade Said from escaping that way. Said surrendered to the SWAT team, and was arrested.

When agents searched the home, they found bags of concrete and evidence of “a construction project” inside, White said. Photos of the inside and outside of the Justin home were shown to the courtroom Monday. The first set of photos showed a single-story white home. A photo of the back exterior of the house showed a covered patio, the walls of which were made up of half concrete and half white lattice.

Inside the home, investigators found a cut-out into the wall that was hidden by a plank of plywood, White said. He described this as the entrance to a “hidden room that was built into the house.” Inside the room, investigators found signs someone had been living there.

In photos shown in court, a TV, couch and personal items filled the small space. The rest of the house looked well-lived in, White said. A fridge was stocked with food and the home’s two bedrooms had suitcases filled with clothes and blanket-covered beds. Photos showed a cluttered house in a state of disarray, with broken furniture and trash scattered throughout.

Agents did not say how long they believe Said lived in the house.

State’s argument

Yaser Said has sent several letters to the judge in Dallas proclaiming his innocence, according to WFAA-TV.

In one letter he wrote, “I was not happy about my kids’ dating activity. But, I did not do the killings or any plan to hurt them,” WFAA reported.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Said will be automatically sentenced to life without parole.

Said pleaded not guilty on Tuesday on the first day of testimony in his trial.

His son and brother have been sentenced to prison for hiding him.

This week, defense attorneys have argued that Yaser Said was targeted as a suspect because he is a Muslim and that evidence indicated the investigation was botched. On Friday, Said’s defense attorney continued to raise doubts about the investigation, questioning a former Irving police detective on seeking other suspects in the killings.

Retired Irving Detective Joe Henning testified that the girls’ boyfriends, who went to Irving police shortly after the deadly shooting on Jan. 1, 2008, were not suspects, even though Yaser Said’s son told police that they needed to be interviewed.

Defense attorneys also have noted that there were no fingerprints, no weapon, and no bloody clothes or footprints found in the investigation.

On Christmas Day in 2007, the girls and their mother fled the family’s Lewisville home because they feared Yaser Said, Owens testified last week. But she and the girls returned back to their home by Jan. 1, 2008.

That night, Yaser Said told his wife he was taking the girls out to dinner, but he didn’t invite her, she said. A few hours later, the girls died from multiple gunshot wounds as they sat in Said’s taxi near the Omni Mandalay Hotel.

Staff writers Harriet Ramos and Domingo Ramirez Jr. contributed to this story, which contains information from the Star-Telegram’s archives.