Judge denies bond for teen in mom’s murder case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – An Oakland Circuit judge Friday denied a request for bond or community placement for a teenager charged with the Aug. 21 first-degree murder of his mother and throwing her body out a third-floor window of their Farmington Hills mansion.

Muhammad Altantawi, 16, is being held without bond in Oakland County Children’s Village, charged with the death of his mother, Nada Huranieh, who was found lying on the patio of their home. He walked into court Friday in a blue jail jumpsuit, smiling at his father and more than three dozen supporters.

His attorneys, David Kramer and Shannon Smith, had hoped to convince Judge Martha Anderson of the teenager’s strong ties in the community, including three people who had agreed to open their homes to him pending trial, surrender their own passports and contact authorities if he violated any conditions of release. They stressed because of his age, no criminal history and presumption of innocence, bond was appropriate.

“This is the most serious charge a person can be charged with and being a minor doesn’t change it,” Anderson said after a two-hour hearing and questioning a man and two women who had volunteered to be custodians of the teenager.

“None of them (candidates) know what transpired between them and what took place. ... What conflicts with the young man and his mother were … that’s important.”

All three candidates said they felt Altantawi was innocent and had known his father for several years. They said they had met or seen the son at social gatherings and at their mosque.

Two said Huranieh, a 35-year-old physical fitness trainer, had bragged about her son but none had any lengthy conversations with the teenager — although their own children knew him.

All felt compelled to offer their homes to care for him because of their concern that his educational needs were not being met at Children’s Village, where his attorneys said the 12th grader was receiving a “ninth grade level education.” All would transport him to and from school or permit tutors to visit their homes.

“They’ve stressed incessantly about the education of a bright, young man,” Anderson said. “But he is a bright, young man accused of first-degree murder. I’m not interested in depriving him of his education, but I would not allow him to attend any school.”

Assistant prosecutor John Skrzynski said he had talked to the head of the children’s facility and was told there had been no attempt by anyone to provide Altantawi with any books or special instruction and that tutors are permitted to visit.

The teenager’s attorneys had suggested placing Altantawi on a GPS tether and even being confined to an address and home-schooled. But Skrzynski said a GPS tether could be removed on a Friday night and authorities might not know or be able to respond for days. He said such a situation threatened the safety of his caregivers and the community.

“It would be a terrible mistake to allow someone with this kind of charge into the community,” Skrzynski told Anderson. “They (potential custodians) are not cognizant of what could happen. I don’t doubt they are wonderful people and well-meaning but untrained to monitor a person like this.”

Skrzynski said the teen is a flight risk due to evidence already gathered and his current “no bond” status is appropriate. Huranieh and the teen’s father, Bassel Altantawi, were divorcing and their separation had caused some issues in the family. Muhammad, who is Muslim, had run away from home on several occasions to meet with his father, who had expressed concerns his ex-wife was “Americanizing” their children.

Nada Huranieh had been distancing herself from the Syrian-American community, declined invitations to social events and had stopped wearing a hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women.

Earlier in the week Skrzynski had reiterated aspects of the case against Altantawi, who was the only person at home at the time of the death except for two sisters, 14 and 12 years old.

Police said there were no signs of forced entry and Skrzynski recounted how an assistant medical examiner’s finding Huranieh’s injuries — no blood on the pavement or brain damage from the fall — reflect she had first been suffocated and then thrown out a window. A ladder and tile cleaning solution left on the window were attempts to make it appear Huranieh was cleaning the window when she accidentally fell to her death, officials said.

Altantawi initially told a detective he had not been in the room and didn’t know anything about the fall until he awoke to the screams of his 14-year-old sister, who had found their mother on the patio.

Skrzynski noted how the teenager’s story changed after he learned a home security camera had captured images at an upstairs window. Altantawi then said got out of bed to get a drink of water when his mother asked him to get her a spray bottle of cleaning solution; and later, that he was holding a ladder for her when she fell off it.

The older sister called 911 upon finding the body. When she went to the door to meet first responders, investigators said a security camera filmed Altantawi holding a cellphone in one hand and talking to a dispatcher while making “half-hearted” attempts at CPR with his other hand until paramedics arrived.