gavel.jpgAn East Bay woman accused of fatally stabbing a San Francisco pizza shop worker in 2009, an act her attorney claims was self-defense, will go to trial for murder in March after a date was set in court today.

Maryam Achekzai, 26, of Hercules, was arrested early in the morning of Nov. 24, 2009, after allegedly stabbing 38-year-old Lassaad Youssef Bokri outside Bellissimo Pizza at 920 Sutter St. in the city’s Nob Hill neighborhood.

The case will rely on several witness accounts, and possibly the testimony of Achekzai herself, according to her attorney Mark Iverson of the public defender’s office.

It’s unclear what prompted an argument between the two outside the pizzeria, but workers at the shop and other witnesses on the street reported hearing Achekzai screaming and seeing her lunging at Bokri with the knife, according to testimony at a preliminary court hearing that concluded earlier this month.

“She was clearly defending herself in this case, and I believe the evidence is going to show that,” Iverson said outside a court hearing in the case today.

A judge on Dec. 8 ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Achekzai for trial on murder, with allegations of the use of a deadly weapon.

Also alleged is Achekzai’s prior conviction for felony assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury in Alameda County for a 2006 robbery in Fremont in which she held a knife to a woman’s throat.

Achekzai re-entered a plea of not guilty to the charges this morning in San Francisco Superior Court. A trial date was set for March 25.

Witnesses at the preliminary hearing said Achekzai came into the restaurant at about 1:30 a.m., shortly before closing, asking for a cup of water. She was given the water and left.

Workers at the pizzeria said Bokri then went out for a smoke break, and a short time later, they saw the fracas outside. One of the workers broke up the two and saw Bokri had been stabbed.

One worker reported hearing Achekzai yelling, “Get him off me, I’m going to kill him.”
A customer said he saw Achekzai holding a knife, screaming and crying.

Another man testified that he had been walking past the shop after drinking at a nearby bar and heard an argument between the two. While Bokri was initially the calmer of the two, the man testified that he heard him mutter, “Get the fuck outta here, bitch.”

Achekzai was yelling, “Shank you…I’m going to fuckin’ stab you,” and then drew a foldout pocketknife, the man testified. He described Bokri as then putting out his cigarette and turning around back toward the pizzeria when Achekzai stabbed him.

Achekzai then tried to flag down a taxi but failed, and then successfully convinced another driver to stop and help her, but police arrived and took her into custody a short distance away.

Bokri died of several stab wounds to the torso, including punctures to the lung and kidney, a medical examiner testified.

Iverson noted that the accounts of the various witnesses to the stabbing varied and at times, conflicted. Witnesses often “confabulate” accounts to fill in gaps in their memory of what happened, he said.

In one account that seemed to lend credence to Achekzai’s version, Iverson said one woman who witnessed the attack testified that at one point, she saw three to five men follow Achekzai down the street. The woman said she then saw Bokri throw Achekzai up against a standing sidewalk sign outside a nearby hotel.

Iverson said video surveillance footage from inside the pizzeria shows Achekzai leaving the shop and Bokri following right after her.

Exactly what happened after that was uncertain, he acknowledged.

Iverson is also exploring whether the cultural and religious backgrounds of Bokri and Achekzai, who did not know each other but both hailed from Muslim countries, may have played a role in the encounter.

Bokri, a Tunisian immigrant, was unmarried and wore a thick beard. He was described by an acquaintance as “a very quiet guy, a very religious guy.”

Achekzai, whose family emigrated from Afghanistan, is not religious and also had a difficult upbringing, Iverson said.

Iverson said that as a religious Muslim, Bokri may have been proscribed from speaking with a woman he did not know.

Ari Burack, Bay City News

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