Suspected Murderers Marry Behind Bars in Orange County Jail

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It was described as a simple and sweet wedding lasting no more than 10 minutes. But in lieu of the traditional flowers and a chapel, there was a glass window and a chain-link fence.

"Do you take this person in freedom and incarceration?" said the Rev. Cynthia Richardson, who officiated the wedding.

"I do," the young couple repeated.

And with that, two suspected murderers married behind bars at the Orange County main jail in Santa Ana, Calif. on Monday.

"You can both blow kisses to each other," Richardson said jokingly.

The bride, Marissa Star Bilotti, 20, accused of helping a former boyfriend shoot and kill a man in 2010, wore her jailhouse uniform consisting of a dark blue smock and pants, with her hair "done as best it could be" and a little makeup.

The groom, Iftekhar Murtaza, 26, accused with two other people of beating the father and sister of his ex-girlfriend to death and then setting their bodies on fire in 2007, donned a mustard-colored jailhouse uniform, his hair neatly cut and his face shaven.

The couple wed in the men's visiting room of the jailhouse. The ceremony was held in the last row, normally reserved for protective custody and high-risk inmates.

Richardson described this section to ABC News as a "cages," with Bilotti and Murtaza just inches apart from each other, but separated by a "chain-like fence."

Richardson stood behind a glass alongside a deputy and a sergeant, holding two phones so Bilotti and Murtaza could hear her throughout the ceremony.

No family or friends were allowed. Bilotti's attorney, Dick Herman, was the only guest present. Instead, four deputies kept a watchful eye on the couple from behind.

"If you had put them in wedding clothes, they [would have] looked like they were ready for a real wedding," said Richardson. "They were smiling from ear to ear just at the fact that they were sitting next to each other for that length of time."

Both Bilotti and Murtaza held a piece of paper with vows they had written as they simultaneously read them aloud. Above that was a picture of Bilotti from her high school graduation and a photo of Murtaza taken off his Facebook page.

"They are very much in love," said Richardson.

However, as a couple behind bars, Bilotti and Murtaza have only seen each other occasionally. Although they are housed in the same jail facility, the two live in separate sections and have never even kissed or touched.

Their romance first began in January, when a fellow inmate of Bilotti's suggested that she write to Murtaza. The couple began to correspond as many as six times a day, oftentimes exchanging Bible study notes and romantic letters. A couple months later, they were said to be in love. They got engaged in April.

"There is perfection to our chemistry that is unfathomable," Bilotti told the Orange County Register.

"She is such a beautiful person; she has such a beautiful soul," Murtaza told the Register over the phone. "I don't judge her, she does not judge me. We just let God figure it out. God performed one miracle already by letting us meet."

But the wedding event was a day no one thought would actually come.

"I knew it was going to be a battle," said Richardson, who runs the inmate wedding service, Jailhouse Weddings, out of southern California. "I had to cut through a lot of red tape to get the marriage license."

While it is not uncommon for either the bride or groom to be incarcerated, having both of them in jail is extremely rare, and something she had never dealt with before, Richardson said.

Richardson worked closely with Bilotti's lawyer to obtain a court order allowing the couple to marry inside the jail courtroom earlier this month. However, the Orange County Sheriff's Office blocked the motion, and the wedding was postponed. One week later, jail officials agreed to allow the ceremony to move forward in the jail's visiting area.

Bilotti is charged with first-degree murder, burglary and robbery. She faces 32 years to life in prison.

Murtaza, awaiting a trial date next year, faces the death penalty for what has been described as one of Orange County's most notorious crimes. He and two friends are accused of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. According to police, Murtaza also slit the throat of his ex-girlfriend's mother, though she survived the attack.

Given those types of backgrounds, Richardson said she has received a lot of public criticism for her business.

"I don't see them as horrible criminals," Richardson said of Bilotti and Murtaza. "People don't understand that these are regular people like the rest of us. There is so much prejudice against incarcerated people and some people don't understand it."

But for Richardson, inmate weddings are a personal matter. Her biological sons and two stepsons are currently in California and Texas jails.

She began officiating jailhouse weddings nearly three years ago when her youngest son, who was serving jail time, decided he wanted to marry his girlfriend. Richardson began to research the legal process behind it.

"I thought to myself, 'I can do this,'" she said.

She now runs the business alongside her daughter-in-law and has performed more than 300 weddings.

Her company was recently featured on the National Geographic television show "Taboo" last month. And now, Richardson said, she is working with a New York based production company on getting a reality show on the air.

Her business allows her to become "fast and furious" friends with many of the brides-to-be she meets, including Bilotti, she said.

"They are sweet," Richardson said. "I hope they can win their cases and live happily ever after."

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