Nada Huranieh was already dead before she hit the ground after falling out of a two-story window, according to a key witness in a Farmington Hills murder case.
The manner of death was homicide, Oakland County Deputy Medical Examiner Ruben Ortiz-Reyes testified Friday during a preliminary exam held at the 47th District Court.
“She was dead by the time she fell out of the window,” he said on the witness stand.
Muhammed Al-Tantawi, Huranieh’s 16-year-old son, is accused of the alleged homicide that occurred Aug. 21 at the family’s home in Farmington Hills. Criminal charges against the young man were amended Friday from second-degree murder to first-degree premeditated murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
In testimony that can only be described as explosive, Ortiz-Reyes suggested her death was made to appear accidental, but in fact was murder. An autopsy he performed on Huranieh two days after she died indicates the cause of death was asphyxia and smothering.
A significant bloodless scrape on Huranieh’s head indicates it occurred after she died, Ortiz-Reyes testified, while a bruise on her lower lip was inflicted while she was still alive.
He noted there were signs of internal hemorrhaging under the skin on both sides of her head – bruises he believes were inflicted while Huranieh was still alive. Bacterial colonies in her lungs would indicate smothering, a sign the person “was gasping for air,” the deputy medical examiner testified.
“The manner of death was a homicide,” he said. “Because the person couldn’t have done this to herself.”
Al-Tantawi, a student at the International Academy in White Lake, sat motionless throughout the testimony. Handcuffed and wearing a blue jail uniform, the young man has remained in custody without bond at Oakland County Children’s Village since the death occurred. He’s being charged as an adult.
The courtroom was filled with family members and friends, while Huranieh’s parents watched the exam from another room on a live-streamed video. Huranieh and her husband were going through a difficult divorce at the time of her death, with litigation filed over how the estate would be divided.
The 35-year-old mother of three was a certified fitness instructor at the Franklin Athletic Club in Southfield. Her friends describe her as a bundle of energy who was trying to move on with her life and, possibly, obtain a real estate license. The husband, a likely witness in the case, was sequestered from the courtroom, along with other possible witnesses.
“It’s hard, very hard,” a friend of the family said in the court hallway after sitting through the exam.
‘Something didn’t feel right’
Farmington Hills Police Officer Nathan Jordan was the first to arrive at the scene. Jordan, a 12-year veteran, said he was dispatched to the family’s home on Howard Road at 6:41 a.m. and arrived there within 10 minutes.
Jordan said during testimony that emergency dispatch told him a female had fallen 10 feet to 29 feet out of a window. The first thing he saw when he arrived was Al-Tantawi kneeling next to his mother’s body on a patio, talking to dispatch with one hand while applying a chest compression to his mother with his other hand.
Jordan said he ran up to the patio and found no indication the woman was alive. He could not find a pulse and she wasn’t breathing, he testified.
Two stories up above the patio, he could see an open window.
Several things struck Jordan about the scene: there were no major signs of trauma or bleeding. He also was bothered by the fact she was face up, which didn’t make sense to him if she had fallen out of a window.
“Something didn’t feel right,” he testified when asked why he immediately requested a supervisor at the scene. “This didn’t feel like a normal investigation.”
At the house were Al-Tantawi and his two younger sisters. Al-Tantawi told him that his parents were separated and his dad lived elsewhere.
“He appeared very alert and actually quite articulate,” the officer testified in describing Al-Tantawi’s emotional state at the time.
Jordan said the son told him that he last saw his mom at about 8 p.m. the night before. The boy also told the officer that he had heard but not seen his mom the following morning. It was the oldest sister who found their mother and called 9-1-1.
The officer then went upstairs to check on the open window. By then, other emergency personnel had arrived and a firefighter told him there appeared to be a noticeable dent on a decorative stucco ledge right below the window.
When he inspected the guest room with the open window, he found next to it a small stepladder and bottle of glass cleaner. He also found spray marks on the window, but no smudge marks.
While all the signs seemed to indicate Huranieh fell out of the window while cleaning it, Jordan said he didn’t buy it.
“I remember thinking something was off, because that is not how someone would land from falling out of a window,” he testified.
He asked the children if they moved the body and they told him no. He also wondered why the three-foot ladder was still standing, rather than knocked over after Huranieh supposedly fell off it.
Under cross-examination, defense counsel Shannon Smith asked Jordan if it was possible that Huranieh fell from the window and essentially did a back flip after hitting her head on the stucco ledge. A photograph from the scene produced as evidence at the exam shows hair stuck to the ledge, indicating her head struck it during the fall.
Jordan further testified that he saw no blood on the patio, nor did he have any blood on his hands after he checked under Huranieh’s head for any signs of injury — indications the victim was already dead before the fall.
“At that point, I didn’t know if it was an accident or not,” Jordan testified. “I just know things were not adding up.”
The exam was adjourned following testimony from the two witnesses and will continue Dec. 8 in Judge Marla Parker’s courtroom. The defense will then be allowed to cross-examine the deputy medical examiner, plus another police officer is expected to testify.
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