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Judge Declares Mistrial in Gang Murder Case

November 08, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Moments after a teenage girl was sentenced Friday for her admitted role in a deadly attack in Glendale three years ago, a Los Angeles judge in another courtroom declared a mistrial in the murder case of two co-defendants she had testified against.

Jurors deadlocked on a murder charge against Karen Terteryan and Rafael Gevorgyan after deliberating for nearly two weeks. However, Terteryan and Gevorgyan were found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.

Anait Msyran, 17, who testified against Terteryan and Gevorgyan as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, received a seven-year term in the California Youth Authority. Msyran had driven both defendants to Hoover High School and helped one of them get away. She pleaded guilty to attempted murder.

The jurors also found Gevorgyan, 18, not guilty of committing the crime for the benefit of a street gang, but couldn't reach a decision on the same charge for Terteryan, 21.

Raul Aguirre was fatally stabbed on May 5, 2000, days before his 18th birthday. Another teenager, Jimmy Orozco, was injured.

All three defendants were arrested shortly after the killing and have been behind bars since then.

The juveniles were charged as adults with murder under a statewide initiative that voters had passed just months earlier.

Jurors said they deadlocked on the murder count because they were not convinced that the defendants had intended to kill Aguirre. They believed that the teenagers went to the high school that afternoon to pick up some compact discs and not to start a gang fight that would turn deadly. They were in the "wrong place at the wrong time" when rival gang members happened to be at the same location, said jury forewoman Lisa Romero.

The fight that broke out led to Aguirre's death, said Romero, who is a secretary at the Los Angeles Police Department. Romero said six jurors voted to convict the defendants of second-degree murder and six voted for voluntary manslaughter. In the end, they couldn't decide unanimously on either.

Aguirre's mother, Leticia Aguirre, said that after waiting for more than three years, she now feels only frustration. She said she could not believe that the jury was unable to decide on the murder counts.

"How could they not see if it was so clear?" she said tearfully outside the courtroom. "They killed somebody because they were mad. I expected justice."

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Terteryan, called the decision a "stunning victory."

"This case was never anything more than a street fight," Geragos said. Prosecutors "completely overblew this case."

Andrew Flier, who represents Gevorgyan, said his client got involved only to defend his friend. "The defense is ecstatic about the verdict," he said.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to retry Terteryan and Gevorgyan on the murder counts. If convicted at a second trial, the defendants could still face life in prison.

"We would have hoped that [the jurors] would have all agreed that this was murder," Deputy Dist. Atty. Darrell Mavis said. "But at least half the jurors thought it was murder."

During six weeks of testimony, Gevorgyan took the stand on his own behalf and several youths testified about what they saw on the afternoon of the killing. Jurors also heard testimony from gang experts and the medical examiner.

Mavis argued that Terteryan, a gang member, got out of the car in front of the high school with a knife and confronted Orozco after exchanging gang signs with him. Gevorgyan followed with a tire iron. In a show of gang unity, they attacked Orozco and then stabbed Aguirre, who was not a gang member, when he intervened.

Defense attorneys argued that the teenagers did not attack Aguirre or Orozco, but that they did get into a brawl with them after gang signs were thrown and ethnic slurs were shouted. The fight stemmed from ethnic tensions in Glendale between Armenians and Latinos, they said.

After the verdicts were read, Geragos patted his client on the back and shook Gevorgyan's hand. Their family members sighed with relief.

Judge Norman P. Tarle declared a mistrial on the murder counts and the remaining count against Terteryan that he committed the crime to benefit a street gang.

In another courtroom, Msyran, who turns 18 this weekend, was sentenced Friday to avoid being sent to adult prison. Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, she stood next to her attorney as Judge Terry A. Green told her that she would serve her time in a juvenile facility.

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