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Boys' Murders Still an Open Case

Playground slayings: Passage of time has hindered investigation of other suspects, prosecutors say.

November 03, 2001|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The murder conviction of Michael Demirdjian probably will not help build a case against other suspects whom authorities have tried to link to the bludgeoning deaths of two teenage boys on a La Crescenta playground, prosecutors say.

"The only way it would make any difference is if Demirdjian decides to talk to us," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Barshop, who called that prospect unlikely.

A jury Thursday found Demirdjian, 16, guilty in the July 2000 killings of 13-year-old Christopher McCulloch and 14-year-old Blaine Talmo Jr.

Four others were arrested, but were released for lack of evidence. After Thursday's verdict, prosecutors vowed that more arrests will be made.

But prosecutors and other authorities said the passage of time has hindered the investigation from the start.

It was several days after the killings before detectives interviewed the other suspects, according to court documents. And nearly a week elapsed before their cars and homes were searched, police said.

"Whenever you have that long of a delay, there's always a possibility of evidence disappearing," said Glendale Police Det. Dennis Smith.

Prosecutors say they plan to meet next week with Glendale investigators to review evidence against those they repeatedly referred to in court as "co-conspirators": Damian Kim, 18; his sister, Kristina Kim, 21; Marion Kim, 18; and Joseph Song, 19.

In an interview with The Times, Damian Kim denied involvement with the murders. "I wasn't even there," he said.

Marion Kim and Song could not be reached, but told the police that they were out of town when the boys were killed. Kristina Kim also could not be reached.

Prosecutors declined to say when arrests might be made or on what charges.

Soon after the victims' bodies were discovered on July 23, 2000, authorities indicated they believed more than one person killed the boys, who had been beaten to death with rocks.

The police quickly zeroed in on Demirdjian and were able to gather a lot of evidence against him because of a combination of cutting-edge detective work and luck, authorities say.

From the crime scene, a police bloodhound tracked a scent trail to Demirdjian's house, which was a block away. Police testified they saw smears of blood inside his home, and subsequent DNA analyses showed it belonged to Christopher.

The police said they also found Blaine's empty wallet and a pair of Demirdjian's blood-stained shoes in the suspect's kitchen trash.

A Glendale detective, who is also a computer forensics specialist, swept through Demirdjian's computer hard drive and located a violent poem with stanzas referring to killing someone with a big rock. Prosecutors showcased that finding as evidence of Demirdjian's state of mind when he killed the boys.

But the evidence trail was growing cold by the time police learned the identities of other uncharged suspects.

The bloodhound that led investigators to Demirdjian's house did not lead officers to the homes of the other suspects, all of whom lived farther away.

One scent trail from the crime scene seemed to go nowhere, when the dog stopped sniffing in the middle of a road. Prosecutors said that was where some of the other suspects got into a car and drove away.

Police traveled a circuitous route to discover the other suspects' identities. After lengthy police interviews, Demirdjian admitted he was at the crime scene and said he saw another teenager named Adam Walker commit the murders.

Acting on Demirdjian's statements, police investigated Walker, now 20, and several of his friends, who later told police about a botched drug deal among Walker, Demirdjian and Damian Kim in the week before the murders. Police and prosecutors now say Walker had nothing to do with the murders.

Walker's role instead was that of a drug dealer who took money that belonged to Demirdjian and Damian Kim without providing drugs in return, prosecutors say. Demirdjian, Damian Kim and three others--Song, Marion Kim and Kristina Kim--then repeatedly tried to lure Walker out of hiding to attack him and get the money back, according to prosecutors.

The victims' deaths resulted from another attempt to set up Walker, authorities say, because Blaine had first introduced Demirdjian to Walker.

Court documents show that the police interviewed Damian Kim on July 26, 2000, and Song and Marion Kim the next day. The teenagers told officers they had left La Crescenta and were driving to Palm Springs shortly before the time the police say the boys were killed.

They also told the police that they stayed at a Palm Springs hotel and didn't return to La Crescenta until the day after the murders. Damian Kim's cell phone records show that a call was made from his phone along the route from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, according to Demirdjian's attorney, Charles T. Mathews.

Prosecutors say they have other evidence suggesting the suspects were at the crime scene. They say a police dog detected Damian Kim's odor on a 16-pound rock that was used to bludgeon Blaine to death. The same chocolate Labrador also identified Song's scent on a park bench used to crush Christopher's chest and neck, the prosecutors say.

They allege that a shoe print found on the body of one of the victims belonged to Marion Kim.

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