Family, friends speak in Moonda penalty phase

Friends say she changed after her father’s 1998 death.



AKRON — Donna Moonda’s friends and family described her as a positive, bubbly person who loved to lavish gifts on others.

But none of those testifying on her behalf Monday at the penalty phase of her murder trial, including Moonda’s three sisters and women she attended high school with in the 1970s and later nursing school, knew she had a drug problem, lost her job and nursing license and had taken a boyfriend before she killed her husband, Dr. Gulam Moonda of Hermitage.

“She was a good person. A lot of fun. She got along with her sisters,” her mother, Dorothy Smouse of Hermitage, Pa., testified about Donna Moonda’s youth. “We were very close.”

The murder

The 69-year-old Mercer County urologist was shot in the side of the head after his wife pulled into an emergency stopping lane on the Ohio Turnpike on May 13, 2005. Donna Moonda’s lover Damian Bradford, a small-time cocaine dealer from Beaver County, Pa., admitted he shot Dr. Moonda at the request of Donna Moonda. Bradford told the court that Donna Moonda had promised to share half of her inheritance, which was estimated to be between $3 million and $6 million.

Earlier this month, jurors found Moonda guilty of murder for hire and gun charges in her husband’s death. The jury is now hearing evidence to determine whether she will spend the rest of her life in prison or be executed.

Prosecutors presented only two witnesses, Dr. Faroq Moonda, nephew of the deceased, and Dr. Iftikhar Chatha, a longtime friend of Dr. Moonda’s.

Dr. Faroq Moonda spoke of the respect the family had for Gulam Moonda, whom he called “uncle doctor.”

Gulam Moonda helped pull his entire family out of poverty in India and now all live in large homes and have thriving businesses, Dr. Faroq Moonda said.

“I grew up watching him and I wanted to emulate him,” Faroq Moonda said.

Effects of doctor’s death

But his uncle’s death has left him distrusting of others.

“He was very trusting. I’ve taken a step back. I’ve become cynical now,” he said.

Dr. Chatha said Gulam Moonda was one of his closest friends and they only became closer on the Friday afternoon trips to Youngstown to worship at the mosque there.

Chatha said he encouraged Moonda to marry and even hosted his wedding to Donna Moonda at his home.

The day they buried Moonda, Chatha suffered a mild heart attack and had to be treated at North Side Hospital in Youngstown.

Both physicians spoke of the patients who approach them daily to talk about Dr. Moonda’s impact and the loss.

“It has been very tragic for the last three years for us,” Chatha said.

Donna Moonda’s family and friends describe her as a happy woman until the 1998 death of her father, Ross Smouse.

It was after that time that friends say she became inaccessible, not answering telephone calls or letters.

A change in Donna

Women she knew from the cheerleading squad at Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa., said she was never angry or unhappy when they knew her.

Two of the women said Donna Moonda refused a De Lorean sports car from Dr. Moonda when they were dating because of its extravagance.

Two other women who attended nursing school with Moonda said she was hard working, and one testified that Donna and Gulam Moonda sent her a substantial check after a close relative died and the woman had to take out a loan to pay for funeral arrangements.

Moonda’s sister, Shirley Scott of Hermitage, testified that Gulam Moonda made all the decisions in the house and he liked his wife to have a plate of fruit or soup ready for him when he came home from work.

“He would rest and he didn’t want any noise at all in the house,” she said.

Under cross examination, Scott admitted that Gulam Moonda paid for her tuition to nursing school and then provided her with a job after graduation.

Testimony is expected to resume today and will include an expert on the federal prison system and a psychologist to talk about dependent personality disorder, a diagnosis Donna Moonda has received since her arrest.

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