No deal cut as Shafiqul Islam pleads to all counts in slaying of Lois Decker
HUDSON–In Columbia County Court Thursday morning, May 24, Shafiqul Islam, 22, pleaded guilty to all four counts of the grand jury indictment against him in connection with the strangulation death of Lois Decker of Hillsdale last November.
Mr. Islam, a convicted/registered sex offender who served prison time, was supposed to be deported back to his native Bangladesh in 2008, but somehow he slipped through cracks in the system.
Several members of Mrs. Decker’s family, her children and her sisters among them, looked on as Mr. Islam spoke slowly, deliberately and sometimes softly, answering “Guilty,” in response to Columbia County Judge Jonathan Nichol’s queries as to how he pleaded on each charge: second degree murder for intentionally causing the death of Mrs. Decker in her Cold Water Street home; and three counts of fourth degree criminal possession of stolen property for stealing the murder victim’s car, her credit card and a truck he took from a man’s garage, all for his own personal gain.
The air was stagnant and sticky in the main second floor courtroom. Judge Nichols asked that a large fan be turned on, but realizing that the roar it produced made the proceedings impossible to hear, he decided instead on opening a window.
The judge took repeated steps to insure that Mr. Islam, who has no high school diploma or general equivalency degree, could read and understand the charges against him and was aware of the consequences of his guilty pleas–that he was waiving his right to a trial and his right to remain silent.
In response to questions from Judge Nichols, Mr. Islam said he had used no drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours, was on no prescription drugs and had no “conditions or impairments.” Mr. Islam said he had enough time to confer with and was satisfied with his attorney, Michael Howard.
According to the information law enforcement officials have been able to piece together about Mr. Islam’s past, he came to the U.S. as a child, by one account, when he was eight-years-old.
It is not known exactly when he arrived in Hudson, but he did attend Hudson City Schools as a teenager, though he never graduated. Mr. Islam told the judge he had completed the 9th grade then switched to a private school in Colorado, where he was a student in the 10th grade for three months before getting “kicked out.”
When he was 17, he was charged with promoting a sexual performance by a child under 17 and was convicted in September 2008 (by then he was 18) for having sexual intercourse with a 12-year-old girl in Hudson. He was sentenced by Judge Nichols to three years in prison, seven years probation and to register as a sex offender.
In a December 11, 2008 court document, a U.S. Immigration Court Judge ordered Mr. Islam removed from this country and sent back to Bangladesh.
According to District Attorney Paul Czajka, when Mr. Islam got out of prison and was released to parole, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials kept Mr. Islam in detention for one year. The DA said in a phone interview Wednesday morning, he was told by ICE agents that they attempted to deport Mr. Islam during that time, but authorities in Bangledesh refused to take him back. “Because Bangledesh would not accept him, they did not deport him and instead released him,” said the DA, noting that ICE agents “claimed they were required to do so” while continuing to work on getting him deported. DA Czajka said both he and Columbia County Sheriff David Harrison, Jr., “think they were required to keep him.”
While out on parole, Sheriff Harrison told reporters during a press conference in February, Mr. Islam was reporting to someone in the state parole office regularly and had reported his recent move to Hillsdale, where he was living at the Mount Washington House. Mr. Islam had been out of a federal detention facility for just six weeks at the time he murdered Mrs. Decker, the sheriff said.
No plea deal with the District Attorney was struck in this case. Mr. Islam admitted to all counts of the initial indictment with no assurances about what his sentence will be. The DA told the court he would make a sentencing recommendation later.
Judge Nichols told Mr. Islam the his guilty pleas were equivalent to guilty verdicts on all counts and will result in deportation back to his country of origin should he complete his sentence, which on the murder charge alone could range from 25 years to life in prison and the imposition of a fine up to $100,000.
Mrs. Decker, 73, a Sunday School teacher and retired Roeliff Jansen School cafeteria head cook, was found dead in her home at 18 Cold Water Street by Sheriff’s Office Sergeant John DeRocha, who went there after being unable to contact her by phone about her car, which was involved in an accident earlier that day.
The case began to unfold when deputies were called to the scene of a one-car rollover accident on State Route 23 in Martindale, Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 6:42 p.m. Two local people came upon the accident and stopped to assist the young man involved in the crash, later identified as Mr. Islam. But when the passersby tried to help the driver, he allegedly attempted drive off with a vehicle belonging to one of them. After both people who had stopped to help prevented him from stealing the car, Mr. Islam fled on foot, went to a nearby house and within a few minutes stole a 2011 Ford F-150 pickup truck from an attached garage.
The stolen truck, operated by Mr. Islam, was found by State Police Sergeant Fred Mueller at the intersection of Warren and Sixth streets in Hudson at 9:56 p.m. Mr. Islam was subsequently charged with being in possession of the stolen truck and was jailed.
He was indicted for Mrs. Decker’s murder and stealing her car and her credit card in February of this year.
Though Mr. Islam pleaded guilty to the crimes, he never confessed in a detailed sworn statement spelling out exactly what transpired the afternoon and evening of November 20, 2011. Also, there were no witnesses to the crime, so how could law enforcement officials be sure they had the person who committed the crime?
In a phone interview following the court appearance, the district attorney said crime scene experts recovered Mr. Islam’s DNA at the crime scene. Had the case gone to trial, Mr. Czajka said, the prosecution “would have relied on scientific proof” of Mr. Islam’s presence at the Decker residence, proof that he had stolen her car and crashed it and was found in possession of her stolen credit card.
Asked about the timing of Mr. Islam’s future deportation, DA Czajka said Mr. Islam would not be deported before serving his sentence, given the nature of the crime, and said he believed that Mr. Islam “would not be getting out of prison.”
Judge Nichols scheduled Mr. Islam’s sentencing for June 26 at 11:30 a.m. and sent him back to jail without bail.
Calls to members of Mrs. Decker’s family for comment were not returned by press time Wednesday.