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Teens' Defense Adds Another Famous Name

Stabbing: Retired state Supreme Court justice, Robert Shapiro, David Kenner represent suspects in slaying of 17-year-old.

August 13, 1998|EVELYN LARRUBIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — The list of celebrity lawyers seeking to free two teenagers charged with a stabbing murder outside a party at a million-dollar Encino home continues to grow.

On the first day of what promises to be a weeks-long preliminary hearing, retired state Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian made an appearance 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 Dream Team, is representing the other teen, Michael Aintablian.

Even Los Angeles Supervisor Mike Antonovich has gone to bat in the case, writing a Juvenile Court judge to request that Oruncakciel be released pending trial. The teens were eventually found unfit for juvenile court and are now being held pending trial as adults.

Shapiro and Kenner claim the teens were not involved in the May slaying of 17-year-old Abtin Tangestanifar. Four other teens have been charged, including two other boys identified as members of a street gang made up of Filipino, Korean and Armenian youths.

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

One of the witnesses told a private investigator working for Kenner that the police twisted her words and that she is certain Oruncakciel was not among the teens 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 mistaken for another of the defendants who has already admitted involvement.

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

"There was so much going on at first I didn't know," said Helou, a friend of the victim. He said he was at the "Sweet Sixteen" birthday party with Tangestanifar and another teen, who got drunk and was "making people mad."

It was this teen, and not Tangestanifar, who apparently was the target of the attack.

Authorities say Oruncakciel, Aintablian, Ari Tomasian, Dikran Tchakirian, Pete Makhdomian and Aram Oknaian waited for the trio to leave, then began beating them after saying they were from the Jef Rox street gang. Police said two of the teens had been identified as gang members before the slaying.

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 called two witnesses Wednesday who testified that Oruncakciel was fiddling with a pocket knife at a fast food restaurant before the party.

The courtroom was teeming with relatives and teenage friends of either the defendants or the victim. Bailiffs turned away a half-dozen more who wanted to watch standing at the back of the room. "We just want to have justice. That's all," said the victim's mother, Parvin Tangestanifar, as she left the courtroom with her husband.

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The preliminary hearing will continue on Monday, then be postponed again until Kevonian returns to the United States, Morris said.

Kenner said he expects the case will then be dismissed by the judge. If not, he said, he and Shapiro will call other party-goers who will testify that their clients were not involved in the slaying.

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