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Ex-Justice Joins Defense as 2 Teens Face Murder Charge

Court: Other high-profile lawyers taking part in Encino case. They say defendants not involved in killing of boy.

August 13, 1998|EVELYN LARRUBIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The list of celebrity lawyers seeking to free two teenagers charged with a stabbing murder outside a party at an Encino mansion continues to grow.

On the first day of what promises to be a weeks-long preliminary hearing, retired Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian appeared Wednesday as co-counsel for Sayat Oruncakciel. He joins Death Row Records attorney David Kenner in defending the youth. Robert Shapiro, a former member of the O.J. Simpson defense team, is representing the other teenager, Michael Aintablian.

Even Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has gone to bat in the case, writing a Juvenile Court judge to request that Oruncakciel be released pending trial. The teenagers were eventually found unfit for Juvenile Court and will be tried as adults.

Shapiro and Kenner contend that the teenagers were not involved in the May slaying of 17-year-old Abtin Tangestanifar. Four other teenagers have been charged, including two boys identified as members of a gang of Koreans, Filipinos and Armenians.

Kenner said two witnesses who initially identified Aintablian and Oruncakciel have since changed their stories, and the other four teenagers charged with the murder deny that the pair participated in the attack.

According to the defense, one of the witnesses told a private investigator working for Kenner that police twisted her words and that she is certain Oruncakciel was not among the teenagers who beat and stabbed Tangestanifar to death. Taline Kevonian is expected to testify when she returns from vacation later this month.

Kenner said his client was confused with another of the defendants who has already admitted his involvement.

Another witness, Fadi Helou, testified in Van Nuys Municipal Court on Wednesday that while he had initially told detectives that Oruncakciel was one of the attackers, he realized that he was wrong when he reviewed a photographic lineup.

Tangestanifar, a popular Taft High School student, was stabbed 11 times. Police said witnesses did not see who did the stabbing and it is still unclear which of the defendants pulled the knife.

However, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Morris on Wednesday called two witnesses who testified that Oruncakciel was fiddling with a pocketknife at a fast-food restaurant before the party.

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