The Murder of Tina Isa: Teen Killed by Parents in 'Honor Killing'
Zein and Maria Isa met in Brazil in 1963. Since Zein was a Muslim and Maria was a Roman Catholic, her parents opposed their relationship. The couple married despite their wishes.
What Maria didn’t know at the time was that her new husband already had a wife — and three kids. Zein had married his cousin when he was a teenager but had left her, their children and his birth country of Palestine in the 1950s.
Zein and Maria had four daughters together, the youngest was Palestina (named after Palestine) who was born in Brazil in 1972. All four girls were raised as Muslims, as per Zein’s wishes.
In 1986, the Isa family emigrated to St. Louis, Missouri, where they owned and operated a grocery store.
The Isa household was a strict one. The girls were permitted to work only at the family business, they were not allowed to date outside of the Muslim faith and they could not leave the home without permission.
Palestina, who was given the nickname Tina by her friends at Roosevelt High School, was a 16-year-old honour roll student who planned to study aeronautical engineering in college.
Rather than be proud of their daughter’s good grades and future aspirations, Zein and Maria were outraged by the fact she listened to Hip-Hop, played soccer and tennis and viewed herself as an American rather than an Arab.
Tina’s parents and her three older sisters were disgusted by her lifestyle but her ultimate sin (in their eyes) was her relationship with a fellow classmate, 18-year-old African-American Clifford Walker.
Tina and Clifford had begun dating in January of 1989 but Tina’s parents did not learn of the relationship until October of 1989.
Zein was especially racist towards African-Americans, who he believed were responsible for many violent attacks on Palestinians. He demanded Tina end her relationship with Clifford and marry a Muslim boy he had chosen from his hometown of Beitin.
Despite having married a woman of a different religious background, Zein felt it was unacceptable for his children to do the same.
Tina refused and in retaliation, her parents barred her from all social events including prom and class field trips. She was not allowed to speak to her friends or leave the house. Tina's mother even visited her school and threatened to withdraw her in an effort to keep her away from Cliff due to his race.
Tina vehemently objected to her parents’ oppression of her. On prom night, she snuck out of her bedroom window and attended prom with Clifford. When her parents discovered she had disobeyed them, they angrily went to the school, tracked her down and dragged her home while she sobbed.
Tina’s relationship with Clifford was the last straw. Zein and Maria decided Tina had destroyed the honour of their family.
The death of Tina Isa
In the early morning hours of November 6, 1989, Maria placed a call to 911 and told the operator Tina had attacked her father with a knife and demanded $5,000. In fear for his life, Zein wrestled the knife away from Tina and attacked her.
When first-responders arrived at the home, they found Tina dead. An autopsy showed Tina had died from fatal stab wounds to her heart and left lung.
Being the only two witnesses to Tina’s death, Zein and Maria thought they were home free, but what they didn’t know at the time was that Zein was being investigated by the FBI on suspicions of his involvement with a Palestinian terrorist organization (PLO) and they had secretly planted voice-activated recording devices in their apartment.
When the FBI heard the tape the following day, they handed it over to the St. Louis Police Department who confirmed their suspicions that Tina wasn’t killed in self-defence, she had been murdered by her own parents.
What really happened
On November 5, 1989, Tina left a note for her parents stating she had gotten a job at Wendy’s, was out working her first shift and would return home at 11:30 pm. Clifford escorted Tina home at 11:59 pm.
When Tina walked in the door, her enraged parents screamed at her asking where she had gone. Tina told them she had been at her new job at Wendy’s but they did not believe her and confronted her about her relationship with Clifford, calling it shameful.
Maria threatened to throw Tina out of the house and demanded her key. When Tina returned the key to her mother, Zein told her it would be her last day on earth and attacked her.
The entire murder had been caught on tape.
Zein and Maria were arrested and charged with first-degree murder the very next day. They pleaded not guilty.
Clifford and several of Tina’s friends told detectives she had a volatile relationship with her parents because they resented her American ways and that she often showed up to school covered in bruises and welts. Tina had told Clifford she was terrified of her parents and had planned to run away on December 3rd, her 17th birthday.
A close friend of Tina’s gave detectives a note. In the note Tina had written, ‘if anything happens to me give this note to the St. Louis Police Department. My parents have killed me.’
Soraia and Fatima, Zein and Maria's two elder daughters, defended their parent’s actions, citing it was normal behaviour in their home country of Palestine to conduct honor killings when a child disobeys their parents and brings shame upon their family.
61-year-old Zein and 48-year-old Maria were convicted of first-degree murder. They were sentenced to death by lethal injection on December 20, 1991.
In 1997, Maria's sentence was reduced to life in prison. That same year, Zein died in prison from complications of diabetes. Maria died in prison in 2004.