Longform

Trial by Fire

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Like Woodcock, Courtesy Computer secretary Lisa Hubert took a dim view of the intraoffice affair. She scolded her friend Alley and asked Pourghafari, "Are you fucking stupid?"

He answered that he was in love with Alley.

"I'm not saying he wasn't," she told detectives. "But what man who's 40 years old would not fall in love with a 21-year-old? He had [wife] Linda, he had two kids, he had a business. They had a life. You just don't walk away from your whole life for a piece of ass."

Alley's best friend, Denise Taylor, described a young woman happy and in love. Kaz had bought Amanda an engagement ring, she told police. They'd talked about moving to a farm in Virginia or Kentucky and starting a family. "She even had a little girl's name picked out," she said.

Amanda was "radiant" when she was with Kaz, Taylor explained. "She glowed. You could tell he made her feel wanted, loved, needed."

But investigators had a different take on the relationship: Fearing that his wife would hear about it, prosecutors said, the computer expert was under pressure to break it off with Amanda. And, some witnesses testified, Kaz's mistress was becoming "bitchy" and making material demands. She allegedly expressed the thought that Kaz should buy her a new car.

Investigators saw Pourghafari's attempts to minimize his intimate relationship with Alley as damningly deceptive. Then they discovered that gasoline had been present in Alley's bedroom, proving to police that the fire had been started on purpose.

When they also found gasoline on one of the black leather dress shoes Pourghafari wore that day, the cops knew they had their man. It was a trace, amounting to one drop, the defense would later argue; it had been what you'd expect on your shoe if a droplet fell from the hose at a gas station or if you stood atop a fresh stain while fueling. But for investigators, it was the crucial piece of evidence.



On August 4, Pourghafari went to the Davie police station, where he was interviewed by a pair of detectives. They showed him the love letters and poems found in Amanda's room. They told him gas had been detected on one of his shoes. Pourghafari had no explanation but declined to answer more questions without an attorney. So he was placed under arrest.

"I did not know, to the last minute, that I was a suspect," he says.

In the Broward County Jail, Pourghafari, who went from lapsed Muslim to born-again Christian during his two-week stint there, knew he faced execution or life in prison. Luckily for him, he called the right man: Mike Dutko, one of his clients at Courtesy Computers, at his law firm. Pourghafari was released on a $100,000 bond, and Dutko began to marshal a defense.


Dutko started to look for other scenarios. What explanation could there be other than one that implicated his client in a horrific death by fire?

There had been a burglary a week before the murder — in which someone stole jewelry from Amanda's room and a hidden set of keys disappeared — that had prompted McClellan to change the locks. There had also been a harsh breakup between Amanda and her ex-husband, Phillip Alley, whom she had accused of leaving dead flowers on her windshield and of putting sugar into her car's crankcase. Theirs had been a tumultuous relationship.

After Phillip Alley confronted his wife on May 17 of that year, backhanding her in the face, Amanda got a restraining order.

In a deposition, Phillip Alley admitted striking Amanda on more than one occasion. "I'd slap her in the mouth and... I'm not proud of it," he said.

However, Alley and his girlfriend, Angela Pumphrey, both provided cops the same story: She and her two sons spent the night of July 26-27 at his Hallandale Beach apartment. He never left, according to Pumphrey and Alley's roommate; in fact, he didn't own a car. She remembered him hitting the snooze button of the alarm clock at 6:30 a.m.

Veteran prosecutor Brian Cavanagh, who sounds like he's still losing sleep over the case, dismisses the jilted-husband scenario.

"He had a rock-solid alibi," Cavanagh says of Philip Alley. "He had nothing to do with it."

Pourghafari and his wife had matching stories as well: how he'd kissed her good-bye at around 5:10 a.m. and driven to the office, where he noticed smoke.

Pourghafari told police it wasn't unusual at all for him to get to the office early, maybe to have a cup of coffee with Amanda. He said that he had left his house an hour early to get his truck's brakes worked on that day, which was confirmed by his mechanic.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton