Daughter talks about last conversation with father before his killing

DENTON -- Lida Vatanpour, the last prosecution witness in the capital murder trial of one of the men accused of killing her father, told jurors Thursday about their last conversation.

Hooshang Vatanpour sounded nervous during a cellphone call about 7:30 p.m. on July 2, 2009, she said.

Vatanpour, a 56-year-old taxi driver from Allen, said that he had two passengers to drop off and that he would call as soon as he was done.

The family didn't hear from him again.

Lida Vatanpour, 30, and others in the family went to a dinner party at a friend's house but didn't feel like eating, she said.

"I started thinking that something bad must have happened to him," she said. "I thought maybe he lost his phone. But he knows I get worried real fast. He would have stopped somewhere and called me."

Denton County prosecutors have presented evidence this week that defendant Noah Whitehead, 24, and William Kirk Stephens, 24, were the two passengers in Hooshang Vatanpour's minivan cab. They hailed Vatanpour in downtown Dallas and killed and robbed him near Alliance Airport in Denton County, and when a friend, Mariesha Ohlfs, brought them a can of gasoline, they set the taxi on fire and left it in a field, authorities said.

Investigators testified that Whitehead stabbed Vatanpour seven times, hit him with a beer bottle and set his body on fire after robbing him of $200 and his credit cards.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, so if he is convicted, Whitehead will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Stephens is awaiting a separate trial on a capital murder charge. The district attorney's office has not decided whether to seek the death penalty, a spokeswoman has said.

Ohlfs has been charged with aggravated robbery and is awaiting trial.

'No one could talk'

Lida Vatanpour told the jury that eventually a cab company representative said officials were trying to find her father using a global positioning unit in his cab. Later that night, the cab was located, and the family went to the Denton County Sheriff's Department, Lida Vatanpour said.

"I was thinking that someone robbed him," she said. "Around 1:30 or 2 o'clock, one of the officers came and asked for family members and no one could talk. Everybody was frozen.

"Finally, I made myself say that I was his daughter."

That's when the family was told that Hooshang Vatanpour had been killed, she said.

Prosecutors then rested their case. Whitehead's attorney, Lee Ann Breading, called no witnesses.

State District Judge Bruce McFarling sent the jury home early, about 2 p.m., so that he and attorneys could work on the instructions that the jury will receive after closing arguments this morning in 362nd District Court.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752