Courts

North Highlands man sentenced to 2 years in death of special needs brother

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A man charged with involuntary manslaughter in the violent death of his little brother, who had Down syndrome, has been handed down a two-year sentence from a local judge.

Akram Husain, 31, was sentenced late last month after pleading no contest to his sole involuntary manslaughter charge. Under the terms of his plea, prosecutors were able to seek a sentence with an upper lid of two years in state prison and a lower lid of nine months in jail with probation.

Husain was arrested on April 14, 2021, after his younger brother, 27-year-old Anwar, was found dead at their shared North Highlands apartment on March 9.

According to court records, Authorities were initially dispatched to the apartment after Husain’s girlfriend and Anwar’s caregiver, Stephanie Mardones, received two texts from Husain. The first, sent at 1:39 pm, stated “Zaky’s dying.” The second, sent over two hours later, followed up with “Anwar has passed away.”

Sac Metro Fire, who have a station four minutes down the road from the apartment, were first on scene. Captain Joe Schmitt found Anwar dead on the sofa, covered in a sheet, with Husain standing nearby, appearing “overwhelmed” with his hand bandaged.

Husain initially told officials that his little brother took a shower and complained of back pain before lying down on the sofa, where he died in his sleep. He said Anwar sometimes made “spastic movements” as a result of his condition and could’ve inadvertently hurt himself, but later told investigators that his brother hadn’t fallen or hurt himself in over a year.

“I don’t want them to investigate me for murdering someone,” Husain told Schmitt, pulling a beanie down near his eyes.

Upon inspection of the apartment, fire and police officials found fresh blood in several rooms, later confirmed to be Anwar’s, as well as a broken toilet. Several knives and a piece of tin foil with a burn mark on it – used to smoke meth – were left on the couch.

When detectives interviewed Husain, he told them he and Anwar lived at the apartment with his girlfriend, Stephanie Mardones, who was also Anwar’s paid caregiver through IHSS. Husain admitted to recently smoking meth and marijuana, which he bought using Mardones’ IHSS money and an inheritance left by his deceased father.

Husain described a tense relationship with his girlfriend and little brother to investigators. He said Anwar had poor hygiene, would develop boils on his skin, and refused to shower, which frustrated him. He admitted to striking Anwar on the hands for refusing to do his homework and said he would get angry because his brother would sometimes “mumble” and “not speak up.”

Detectives learned that, earlier that day, Mardones left the apartment in the midst of a fight with Husain. He told the cops that he was upset because he knew his girlfriend was going to “hang out with bad people”, while Mardones said she left the apartment to have sex with another man in a hotel room.

Despite the new details regarding the argument, Husain stuck with his initial story. He said he told Anwar to take a shower before the brothers watched YouTube videos together and fell asleep. When he woke up, Husain said, it was dark and his brother “looked funny” and “wasn’t moving.”

After detectives confronted him with the blood evidence and the broken toilet – both signs of a recent fight or violent event – Husain began to come clean. He said he argued with Anwar because he refused to shower, becoming angry because he could smell him from across the room. After Anwar wouldn’t budge, Husain took matters into his own hands.

He began pulling his little brother towards the bathroom, he said, when both men fell and Anwar “stopped moving.” He said he pushed him once more, knocking his head against a wall and toilet. Photographs taken by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office confirm the injuries.

An arrest report, not included in court records and released to The Update via the California Public Records Act, said Husain struck Anwar several times in the head and face with his hands and a shoe.

After the scuffle in the bathroom, as Husain moved Anwar to the sofa, he said he held onto him and “heard Anwar’s neck pop” before he stopped breathing. He propped him up on the sofa and covered his body in a sheet. He let two hours pass before he notified Mardones of the death, failing to alert police or fire officials stationed just minutes away from the apartment.

“I hurt my brother’s neck and it must have killed him,” Husain told investigators.

The neck injury, prosecutors say, didn’t kill Anwar, but the injuries to his head and other parts of his body did – further cementing the narrative that detectives established.

“[Anwar] did not die of an injury to his neck, and no one will know what really occurred that day, but we do know that defendant was physically violent with his disabled brother…” DDA Crabill wrote. “Defendant has never admitted his role in Anwar’s death and has never accepted responsibility.”

Prosecutors have said Husain’s motive for the killing wasn’t because he was angry about his brother’s hygiene, but that he was enraged that his girlfriend was sleeping with another man while he was stuck caring for Anwar.

Following the arrest, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office filed search warrants for several social media accounts controlled by Mardones and Husain. They discovered the couple, in conversations with concerned family members anxious to learn how Anwar died, blamed his death on malnutrition, a poor diet, and a tape worm.

Court documents reveal Anwar warned Adult Protective Services of the abuse he encountered at the hands of his brother and his girlfriend as early as 2010. He ran away from home in August of that year and claimed Husain frequently pushed him, slapped him, and let him starve. He later recanted that statement and returned home, with officials taking no action.

In October of 2010, Anwar said Mardones struck him with a hanger. Court records don’t specify whether that report was conclusive.

In September of 2020, ten years later, Akram left home on a Saturday morning wearing a bright orange pair of basketball shoes. His family reported him missing and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search, later returning the man to the apartment.

In a sentencing brief submitted by Byron Roope, an attorney for Husain, several family members wrote letters to the judge asking for a sentence of probation with counseling. They described Husain as an “honest, decent, and courteous guy” who made a mistake and froze up afterwards.

“I feel confident that if he had the full understanding that Zaky would die from his inaction, that he would have fought harder through the frozen state of mind he was in,” Heidi Thompson, Akram’s sister, wrote. “He does understand the impact now, albeit too late; however, I don’t think there is anything that will lessen the guilt or shame that he already feels outside of the love of his family and friends, time, and counseling, if he will agree to it.”

The judge sided with the county and went with the two-year term, remanding Husain into a state prison hold at the COVID-ravaged Sacramento County Main Jail.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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