Relatives sorry to see man go to prison: Even after he threatened to kill them

Let's face it: Sometimes we all want to kill our relatives. But most people don't take these fleeting impulses seriously. San Francisco resident Sadat Mousa is another story. Earlier this month, the 35-year-old was sentenced to three years in prison and one year in jail for, among other things, threatening to kill his brother during an on-the-record courtroom hearing at which a restraining order was being sought against him.

Under California law, it's a felony to threaten injury or death with the intention of scaring somebody, even if the perpetrator doesn't actually plan to carry out the threats.

In the fall of 2009, while awaiting trial in the county jail, he made more than 90 recorded telephone calls — most of them to his sister, Hanan Swalim — in which he colorfully suggested that he would immolate, maim, and otherwise harm his blood relations once released.

"I hope they pour kerosene on her and burn her while she is still alive," Mousa said of his mother in one such call, according to transcripts. Of his brother, he said, "I'll cut his other leg and shove it into his abdomen, and the other weak leg I'll cut it and shove it in his abdomen too." These are a court interpreter's translations from Arabic; one can only imagine that in his native language Mousa's imprecations had added zing.

Odd, then, that the objects of this invective say they're not happy about his conviction and prison sentence. In courtroom testimony and in interviews with SF Weekly, Mousa's mother and sister dismissed accusations — not to mention police and prosecutors' hard evidence — that he had threatened them. His mother, Badia Mousa, said at his sentencing hearing that prosecutors had kept her from testifying at his trial, and that the resulting conviction was a miscarriage of justice. "I'd like to tell the truth," she said at the hearing. "My son Sadat has not threatened me. He has never threatened me in my life." Swalim told SF Weekly that the charges against her brother are "all lies. He does not threaten my mother or my brother." Even his brother, Amjad, said at trial that he couldn't remember whether Sadat had threatened him, according to Assistant District Attorney Victor Hwang.

What are we to make of these denials? "This is similar to a domestic violence case," said Hwang, who prosecuted Mousa. "It's not uncommon for the victim to recant and change their story by the time it comes up for trial." (Hwang also noted that he was willing to offer Mousa probation, avoiding prison, if he would undergo a mental health evaluation. Mousa refused.) And despite victims' efforts to back down, prosecutors have an obligation to put dangerous people in jail.

Meanwhile, Mousa may soon find it hard to continue indulging his penchant for unsettling phone calls. In California's state prison system — unlike the San Francisco county jail — all outgoing calls are collect.

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