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Lawyers Spar Over Retrial of Demirdjian

April 27, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lawyers got personal Thursday as they sparred for advantage before the retrial of Michael Demirdjian, accused of bludgeoning two boys to death on a La Crescenta playground.

Demirdjian's defense attorney, Charles T. Mathews, sought to remove Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joseph F. De Vanon from hearing the case.

"Throughout the trial, the Court displayed a latent and, at times, patent bias in favor of the prosecution and against the defense," Mathews stated in court papers.

As an example, he cited a comment by the judge that Mathews took "underhanded and improper positions in front of the jury." Mathews also complained that the judge barred testimony that would have helped the defense.

During Demirdjian's trial, which ended last week in a mistrial, prosecutors argued that he killed and robbed 14-year-old Blaine Talmo Jr. and 13-year-old Christopher McCulloch last July after he was cheated out of money in a drug deal. Demirdjian, 16, who took the witness stand, testified he was merely a witness and that another teenager killed the victims. Last Friday, after seven days of deliberations, jurors said they were deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of guilt on the murder charges and 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on one of the robbery counts.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Barshop on Thursday asked De Vanon to hold Mathews in contempt of court. He alleged that Mathews said after the mistrial that "the prosecution's case sucks . . . and Glendale police's investigation sucks as well."

Outside the Pasadena courtroom, Mathews said he didn't know how he could be held in contempt because there was nothing to bar him from speaking publicly about the case.

"One thing Mr. Barshop seemed to forget is my client has a 1st Amendment right and so do I. A person who is unjustly accused has a right to speak out," Mathews said.

De Vanon will respond to Mathews' allegations by May 4, and a contempt hearing for Mathews is scheduled for May 14. Demirdjian's retrial will begin by June 19, Barshop said.

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