FBI’s terror bug caught parents red-handed, stabbing teenage daughter to death.
By David J. Krajicek / NYDAILYNEWS.com
Like many teenagers, Tina Isa didn’t listen to her parents.
They lived in different worlds, in effect.
Her father, Zein Isa, was a Palestinian Muslim with Old World ideas about how his child should and should not behave. His wife, Maria, a Brazilian Catholic, was more a martinet than a mother.
But Tina was a headstrong modern girl growing up in big-city St. Louis, not some medieval village.
At age 16, she was a bright senior honors student at rugged Roosevelt High School. She dreamed of studying aeronautics in college. She wanted to learn to fly.
She liked hip hop music and giggled with girlfriends about cute boys.
“She was so American,” a schoolmate said.
Zein and Maria Isa tried to keep their daughter — the youngest of four — on a short leash. They discouraged her from playing sports and forbid her from going on school trips.
Her father decreed that she was destined for an arranged marriage with a good Muslim from his West Bank hometown.
She was not allowed to date or take a job. When she managed to steal away to the junior prom, they tracked her down and hauled her home.
Six weeks into Tina’s senior year, her parents began the process of withdrawing her from school for disobeying “family rules.” During a conference with the girl’s guidance counselor, Maria Isa described her daughter as a “tramp” and a “whore.”
On Nov. 6, 1989, Tina was late coming home.
Her parents were waiting, glaring through the windows, as a classmate — a boy she had secretly begun dating — walked her to the door.
When she stepped inside, her mother fumed, “Where were you, bitch?”
Tina explained that she had taken a part-time job at a Wendy’s restaurant a mile from home and had just finished her first shift.
“We do not accept that — to work!” shouted her father. He raged about fornication with the boy and called his daughter a “she-devil.”
For several minutes, they argued in a mix of English and Arabic about whether Tina would be allowed to continue living with her parents.
“Come on, throw me out!” Tina said. “OK, here is my key.”
During the argument, Maria Isa searched Tina’s school bag, interrogating her about shoes, books and a newspaper she found inside.
The father suddenly cut off the conversation.
“Listen, my dear daughter, do you know that this is the last day?” Zein Isa said.
“Huh?” Tina replied.
“Do you know that you are going to die tonight?”
When he returned from the kitchen with a 7-inch boning knife, Tina grasped that he was serious. She cried out, “Mother, please help me!”
“What help?” the mother replied. “Are you going to listen? Are you going to listen?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes, I am!”
But it was too late. As her mother pinned the screaming girl to the living room floor, her father raised the knife and buried it in her left breast six times.
“No! Please!” she shouted.
“Shut up!” her mother replied.
“Die! Die quickly!” said the father.
After one final death groan, he added, “Quiet, little one! Die, my daughter, die!”
The parents then called 911 to announce that Tina had attacked them. Zein Isa told police he had killed her in self-defense.
St. Louis detectives were trying to make sense of the case the next day when they were contacted by the FBI.
Zein Isa, who owned a small grocery store, had been under surveillance as a member of a Midwest-based terrorist cell linked to Abu Nidal, a jihadist group. The seven-minute Isa family argument culminating in the stone-hearted murder had been recorded via a bug planted in their home.
FBI agents heard every mortifying word when they reviewed the tapes the next morning.
The press called it an “honor killing,” though Zein and Maria Isa stuck to their story that the girl had struck first.
The FBI recording was damning evidence when the two went on trial for first-degree murder in the fall of 1991. They did little to encourage sympathy, and both were convicted.
At her sentencing, Maria Isa told the judge that it was all Tina’s fault.
“My daughter was very disrespectful and very rebellious,” she said. “We should not have to pay with our lives for something she did.”
Judge Charles Shaw disagreed and sentenced both to die.
In 1993, as he sat waiting among Missouri’s condemned, Zein Isa was indicted with four other men on racketeering charges for plotting terrorism. All of them, including Isa, were naturalized American citizens who had grown up in the same West Bank town, Beitin.
Charges were dropped against Isa since they were redundant to his death sentence. The others pleaded guilty in 1994, and each served about two years in federal prison.
Isa didn’t make it to the executioner’s gurney. He died behind bars of diabetes in 1997. That same year, Maria Isa’s death sentence was reduced to life without parole after an appeals court ruled that her brutality should have been considered separately from that of her husband.
Now 70, Maria Isa is still locked up in a Missouri penitentiary, 24 years after witnessing her daughter die, begging for mercy that she would not bestow.