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New Lead in Slayings Emerges : Crime: Prosecutors say potential witness has come forward with information on the killings of three executives linked to Carole Little clothing firm. Suspect's trial is delayed.

November 04, 1995|GEORGE WHITE and PAUL LIEBERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A potential new witness has come forward with information on the mysterious murders of three executives tied to the Carole Little clothing company, county prosecutors said Friday.

The development prompted prosecutors to obtain a postponement of the trial of accused hit man Karapet Demirdzhyan, who is charged with the first of the killings--the Nov. 2, 1993, shooting of sewing contractor Hakop (Jack) Antonyan outside his Glendale factory, which assembled thousands of garments for Carole Little.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ellen Aragon would not disclose the nature of the new information or reveal the name of the witness. "For the protection of the potential witness," she said, she would not even name the law enforcement agency that found the person.

The announcement was a dramatic turn in the probe of the chilling series of killings. Carole Little Vice President Kenneth Martin was ambushed while driving home in 1994 and Rolando P. Ramirez, the clothing company's comptroller, was ambushed this year after leaving work--both shot to death at Los Angeles intersections.

Investigators believe that the potential witness may also have information about the Antonyan murder "because we believe that the murders are related," Aragon said Friday.

Jury selection in the murder trial of Demirdzhyan, who is being held without bail, had been scheduled to begin next week, but now will probably begin in December or January under a new schedule agreed to Friday afternoon by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline A. Connor.

Investigators have been examining the possibility that sewing contractors that have been vying for work from Carole Little might have been behind the murders, but detectives have also looked for other motives and have questioned friends and associates of Demirdzhyan.

Although he is charged with being the triggerman in the murder of Antonyan, he is not a suspect in the other two killings because he was in jail when they occurred. No one has been charged with those murders.

To delay Demirdzhyan's trial the prosecution had to formally dismiss the first-degree murder charge against him, then refile a new one Friday afternoon.

The postponement was sought because authorities need time to review and investigate the claims of the potential new witness, Aragon said.

"If this person tells us who is really behind all of this--and who may have wanted Mr. Antonyan killed--that will be important information for the jury," she said.

Five agencies have been working on the case: the FBI, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach police departments. Investigators and others would not comment Friday on the identity of the potential witness. But sources said the witness has already talked to the FBI, which was brought into the case early this year.

"To talk about potential witnesses would be inappropriate," said Charlie Parsons, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office. "We cannot confirm or deny existence of an investigation."

Other law enforcement agencies responded cautiously to reports of the potential witness, noting that the person's credibility has yet to be assessed.

"Conclusions would be very premature at this point," said Glendale Detective Dennis Smith. "We're optimistic . . . but it's hard to speculate what will happen."

News of a potential witness was welcomed by Leonard Rabinowitz, chief executive of the Los Angeles-based California Fashion Industries, the firm that produces the Carole Little line of women's clothing.

"This is good news . . . wonderful news," Rabinowitz said. "This is a high-profile investigation, and whoever is behind all of this must realize the magnitude of the crimes."

In addition to the murders, law enforcement agencies are investigating three attacks on Karin Holzinger, a former Carole Little vice president who survived two bombings at her Long Beach home and a freeway shooting--all in 1993. Part of Holzinger's job was to pick the firm's sewing contractors--and eliminate others.

Investigators are also probing an attack on Jack Antonyan's brother, Gary, who witnessed his brother's murder. A year later, Gary Antonyan and his wife were wounded after leaving the family's Glendale shop. He is expected to be the main witness against the 35-year-old Demirdzhyan at the trial.

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