VAN NUYS — From all outward appearances, Russian Armenian immigrant Harut Truzian seemed to be the concerned, helpful brother. Inside, he was seething, convinced, he later said, that his sister and her husband had "screwed me the American way."
Still, when his sister's husband was slain, he stepped in to help her run the family's Chocolate Delight candy factory. And when the Van Nuys business was burglarized, he advised her to invest in an alarm and some insurance.
But on Monday a jury in Van Nuys agreed with prosecutor Steven J. Ipsen's assessment that, in fact, Truzian was "the big bad wolf," so filled with envy and resentment that he had vowed to one day see his sister starve.
After deliberating for two days, the eight men and four women on the jury agreed, delivering guilty verdicts on all counts: first-degree murder with the special circumstance of murder for financial gain; extortion, and burglary.
He earned the extortion conviction for shaking down his widowed sister for $18,000 by sending her a letter with a bullet in it.
When he appears before Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg on Aug. 29, Truzian faces but one sentence: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Basically, he cashed out his sister," Ipsen said. "He found out what America really was."
Prosecutor Ipsen said one juror told him that nine of the 12 members of the panel favored conviction after the first straw vote.
Ipsen said during the 16-day trial that Truzian murdered his brother-in-law, Zaven Baregamian, in February 1993, firing a single shot into his head as Baregamian lit a cigarette while preparing his taxes in the back office of Chocolate Delight.
Ipsen alleged that the Baregamians had invited Truzian to Southern California to help at the chocolate factory. But, the prosecutor said, Truzian brought more than a sugar candy recipe with him. He also arrived with a sense of entitlement and the expectation that the recipe made him an equal partner.
Instead the Baregamians threw him out of the business--and out of their home--when he refused to work. "He sat at home and watched television for seven months and did nothing to help them with the work," Ipsen said.
For a time, the resentful Truzian lived out of his car. Later, the prosecutor alleged, he decided to kill his brother-in-law so he could step in as "man of the family" and run the business. But Manoush Baregamian had other ideas, even as Truzian reminded her that she was "just a woman," Ipsen said.
After that, Truzian disappeared, and his schemes escalated.
When, several months later, Manoush Baregamian received her husband's life insurance money, Truzian sent her an extortion letter containing a .25-caliber bullet almost identical to the one that killed her husband. The letter advised her to pay or she would die the same way her husband had.
Finally, in October 1993, Truzian and a business partner burglarized the Chocolate Delight candy factory, which made delicate chocolate marshmallow candies known in the Armenian community as ptaichye moloke, or bird's milk. They put the machinery in storage--Truzian's intent being to cripple his sister's business while a new company he founded in Oakland thrived.
It didn't happen. At most, Truzian sold about $500 worth of chocolates.
Truzian's motives for the crimes--greed, resentment and a thwarted sense of entitlement-- became clear when he recorded conversations he had with his sister, Ipsen said. Truzian had planned to send the tapes to their mother in Yerevan to show how life in America had changed Manoush for the worse, according to testimony.
"You and Zaren tricked me into coming to this country, and then you screwed me over the American way," he said at one point. "I admired you like a saint back in Yerevan, but America has changed you."
Later in the tape, he vowed to put his sister out of business, and said he would gladly see her starve.
Defense attorney Michael Duffey told jurors that prosecutors had no physical evidence to link Truzian to the crime scene. And he cautioned them to question the credibility of the prosecution's star witness, Truzian's former business partner. The partner, Serob Yanvetskyan, was placed on probation after admitting his role in the burglary.