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Killer Confesses After 20 Years

To earn chance at parole, a man admits guilt in shooting of a Turkish consul in 1982.

October 19, 2002|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

An Armenian man convicted of assassinating a Turkish consul in 1982 admitted for the first time Friday his role in the killing in exchange for the possibility of eventual release from state prison.

Harry Sassounian, 39, will be eligible for parole in 2007 under terms of the settlement with prosecutors. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office agreed not to retry the penalty phase of the case against the defendant.

"I participated in the murder of Kemal Arikan," Sassounian said in Superior Court Friday. "I renounce the use of terrorist tactics such as the assassination of diplomats to achieve political goals. I regret the suffering of the Arikan family."

Sassounian was convicted in 1984 of shooting the consul general at a stoplight in Westwood. Prosecutors argued that the killing was part of a campaign targeting Turkish officials for assassination in retaliation for the massacre of more than 1 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The district attorney's office decided to retry the penalty phase of the case after a federal appeals court ruling in 2000 made the defendant immediately eligible for parole. The justices upheld the first-degree murder conviction, but reversed the finding that the victim's nationality was the reason for the killing.

On Friday, Judge Robert J. Perry re-sentenced Sassounian to a term of 25 years to life in state prison and told him he would be eligible for parole only on Sept. 28, 2007, "not on any date before or after."

Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Dixon said his office will probably oppose Sassounian's release.

Dixon said outside court that prosecutors determined the settlement was appropriate, in part, because of the defendant's public statement admitting his involvement in the political assassination.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, whose father originally defended Sassounian, said the deal was "18 years coming."

"Given the tenor of the times, parole is not an easy task. But we certainly are a lot closer today than yesterday."

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