By MILAN SIMONICH
May 31, 2005
A robber approached a man stopped along the Ohio Turnpike, took his money, then shot him in the face.
The victim, a millionaire physician from Sharpsville, Pa., named Gulam Moonda, died in front of his wife and mother-in-law. After shooting Moonda, the assailant elected not to harm either witness. Instead he fled in a dark van. Both women said they were so terrified they did not notice the license plate, and his wife said she couldn't describe the shooter.
Violent crime is almost unheard of on the 241-mile highway that traverses Ohio. In all of last year, one unarmed robbery occurred on the roadway, and one armed robber held up a store in a service plaza.
So it's not surprising that almost immediately after Moonda's death more than two weeks ago, on Friday the 13th, the highway patrol began wrestling with the case's central question: Was he a random victim of a cruel robber, or a specific target of someone bent on murder?
Police began digging into the backgrounds of Moonda, 69, and his wife, Donna, 46, to determine if someone had a grudge against him. Investigators' tactics upset her so much that she hired a prominent Cleveland defense attorney after being questioned for a second time.
The lawyer, Niki Schwartz, said Donna Moonda has been labeled a suspect by investigators, who think she could have arranged her husband's slaying.
Through Schwartz, she said she is innocent and will continue to help investigators solve the mystery of her husband's killing.
The Moondas' May-December romance began during the 1980s. An immigrant from India, Gulam Moonda became a board-certified urologist.
Donna Smouse Moonda, a blonde who possessed cover girl looks, graduated from Hickory High School in Mercer County in 1977. She became a registered nurse five years later, a job that produced an introduction to Moonda.
The couple married in December 1990 after signing a prenuptial agreement that would limit her financial claims if they ever divorced.
They lived in a Sharpsville mansion ringed by manicured lawns and mature trees. While keeping a low profile, he amassed millions of dollars and built a sterling professional and civic reputation.
After Moonda's death, acquaintances said he and his wife had seemed happy. Court records and the police investigation, though, revealed trouble.
Donna Moonda was arrested in October 2003 for stealing the painkiller fentanyl from the hospital in Greenville, Mercer County, where she worked as a nurse anesthetist. She usually smuggled the drug home and used it there.
A first-time offender, she pleaded no contest to the crime in August. She received probation, having already gone through in-patient drug rehabilitation at a Gateway clinic in Beaver County.
There she met Damian R. Bradford, a self-described drug dealer. Police say she began a relationship with him, even though he was half her age.
Bradford, 23, of Center, Pa., has been named by the highway patrol as "a person of interest" in Gulam Moonda's killing.
Pennsylvania State Police say Donna Moonda bought Bradford gifts and listed herself as a cohabitant of the apartment where he lived. When she told her husband she was traveling to meetings or counseling related to her addiction, she instead went to see Bradford, police said.
Bloody towels and clothing, six cell phones, and $950 in $50 bills were among the items police seized in a raid of his apartment. Whether any of it can be connected to Moonda's death is a focus of the investigation.
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