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Mistrial Ruled in Murder Trial of Teen

Courts: Jurors deadlock 8 to 4 on charges against 16-year-old in slayings of two boys in La Crescenta. Retrial is planned.

April 21, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than a week of deliberations, a Pasadena jury said Friday it was deadlocked in the case against 16-year-old Michael Hrayr Demirdjian, on trial in the bludgeoning deaths of two boys at a La Crescenta playground.

Jurors voted 8 to 4 in favor of guilt on the murder charges and also were unable to come to a consensus on two robbery counts.

Pasadena Superior Court Judge Teri Schwartz said she had "no choice but to declare a mistrial." Schwartz was standing in for Judge Joseph De Vanon, who presided over the trial.

Prosecutors immediately announced they would pursue a retrial.

"We're certainly disappointed we can't resolve this [now] . . . but we're prepared to retry the case," said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Demirdjian's attorney, Charles T. Mathews, called the mistrial finding a "big victory for the defense [and] a big victory for the jury system. . . . They saved the state from convicting another innocent person.

"It shows the colossal failure of the prosecution's case," Mathews said. "They couldn't sell 12 people on the case."

Sitting with his attorney's arm around him, Demirdjian blinked rapidly but otherwise appeared calm. The 16-year-old, who was 15 when the slayings occurred, will remain in custody.

As the jury of 10 women and 2 men walked away from deliberations that began April 12, a few looked angry while others appeared exhausted. All declined comment.

Blaine Talmo Jr., 14, and Chris McCulloch, 13, were beaten with rocks near the slides and jungle gym of Valley View Elementary School on the night of July 22 last year.

Deputy Dist. Attys. Steve Barshop and Truc Do argued Demirdjian had robbed and killed the teens as revenge for a botched drug deal.

Prosecution witnesses testified that five days before the killings, a 19-year-old named Adam Walker took $660 from Demirdjian without giving the teen the promised marijuana. Blaine allegedly introduced Demirdjian to Walker. Demirdjian, along with a group of other youths, then tried to "set up" and attack Walker, Barshop said.

A police dog tracked a scent from the crime scene to Demirdjian's house, where investigators found Blaine's wallet and Christopher's blood inside the home.

On the two robbery counts, jurors voted 8 to 4 in favor of guilt on whether Demirdjian robbed Blaine and 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on whether the defendant robbed Christopher.

During the trial, Demirdjian testified he did not harm either boy. He testified he was a friend of Blaine's and had just witnessed the slayings, which he said was committed by Walker. Demirdjian also testified he had gotten blood on himself when he bent over the battered victims to see whether they were alive.

Prosecutors, however, said Walker is not a suspect.

Mathews told jurors the same police dog that led investigators from the crime scene to Demirdjian's house also led investigators to an area a mile up the street--near the home of one of Walker's associates.

Demirdjian had "the fortune of not being killed by Adam Walker" and ironically became targeted for prosecution, Mathews said.

"Law enforcement continues to beat its breast . . . [in its] attempt to convict another innocent person," Mathews said. "The pain has been enormous to [Demirdjian's] parents."

FOR B10 PIC SLUGGED SF.Demi

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