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Arson Suspect to Undergo Mental Exams

The case against an Encino man charged in five attacks on houses of worship is suspended after his competency is questioned.

July 23, 2003|Akilah Johnson | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday ordered a psychiatric evaluation for an Iranian immigrant charged with arson and hate crimes in connection with a series of fires set at houses of worship in Encino earlier this year.

Farshid Tehrani, 40, an Encino resident with a history of mental illness, was charged in May with a dozen counts of arson and terrorism involving the fires. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Judge Jessica Perrin Silvers suspended the criminal case, pending the outcome of evaluations by two psychiatrists who will advise the court on Tehrani's competency to stand trial.

If found to be incompetent, Tehrani would likely be sent to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino. If not, he would return to Van Nuys Superior Court for a preliminary hearing.

Tehrani's attorney, Lazier Gould, told the judge he questioned his client's current mental state and doubted the man's ability to stand trial. The judge agreed.

After reviewing three medical reports, which were later sealed, and hearing Gould's argument, Silvers said: "Based on my observation of the defendant over these past appearances, based on counsel's reservations ... I do declare a doubt as to the defendant's competency."

A disheveled Tehrani sat stoically as Gould told the court that his client had been diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Millington did not object to Gould's request or the court's decision. A hearing in the court's psychiatric unit is set for Aug. 12.

Tehrani, who is Jewish, is charged in the arson attacks that targeted five houses of worship in the San Fernando Valley.

The first fire was set early April 26 at the First Presbyterian Church of Encino, causing between $75,000 and $100,000 in damage.

On May 5, a blaze caused minor damage at the Bahai Faith Community Center on Genesta Avenue and a second one burned the roof of a small Iranian synagogue on Ventura Boulevard.

On May 6, a window was shattered at the Da'at Torah Educational Center, a small storefront temple at a Ventura Boulevard mini-mall. Early the next morning, an apparently homemade fire bomb was tossed into the sanctuary of the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue, but was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system.

Tehrani was arrested May 9 by Los Angeles police officers on suspicion of setting fire to a trash can in West Los Angeles.

Gould said Tehrani admitted to setting that fire.

"He claims he was cold that evening," Gould said. "He lit the trash can to warm himself."

Tehrani remains in police custody on $750,000 bail.

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