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Trial of 2 Accused in Teen's Death Begins

September 26, 2003|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Two Armenian American teenagers murdered Hoover High School senior Raul Aguirre near the campus three years ago in a brutal show of gang pride, prosecutors told jurors Thursday.

In contrast, defense attorneys said Aguirre died tragically during a brawl stemming from ethnic tensions between Armenians and Latinos in Glendale.

Those conflicting accounts opened the murder trial of Karen Terteryan and Rafael Gevorgyan, two of the first teenagers charged as adults under Proposition 21, the juvenile crime initiative passed by California voters a few months before Aguirre's death on May 5, 2000. At the time, Terteryan was 17 and Gevorgyan was 15.

Both are charged with murder, attempted murder, street terrorism and an allegation that they committed the crime to benefit a street gang. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in state prison.

A third defendant, Anait Msyran, who was 14 at the time, also was charged as an adult. Prosecutors said she drove the car the defendants were in and helped one of the suspects get away. Msyran pleaded guilty earlier this month to attempted murder in a deal in which she will testify against her co-defendants in exchange for a seven-year sentence in a California Youth Authority facility.

The trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court is expected to last through October and will include testimony from gang experts, high school students and psychologists.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Darrell Mavis told jurors that Aguirre was waiting with a fellow employee, Jimmy Orozco, to catch a bus to work.

Just after school let out, Msyran drove by the school in a black Nissan, while Terteryan sat in the passenger seat and exchanged gang signs with Orozco.

The car then turned around and Terteryan allegedly jumped out with a knife and confronted Orozco. Gevorgyan, who was in the backseat, allegedly followed with a crowbar.

Prosecutors contend that Terteryan was a member of, and Gevorgyan was an associate of, the Armenian Power gang, while Orozco belonged to the rival Westside Locos. The prosecutor said the defendants began to attack Orozco. Aguirre, who was not a gang member, tried to help Orozco and was stabbed four times and hit in the head. He collapsed on the curb and died at a hospital later that day. Orozco was not seriously injured.

After their arrests, the defendants were secretly recorded in the back of a patrol car bragging in Armenian about what they had done, Mavis said. Terteryan allegedly said, "I stabbed that dude," and Gevorgyan allegedly said, "Bang, I hit his head."

In his opening statement, Terteryan's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, told jurors that the case had nothing to do with gangs.

Geragos said Terteryan got out of the car that afternoon only when ethnic slurs were yelled at him. A fight ensued. "This was not gang warfare," he said.

Gevorgyan's attorney, Andrew Flier, said his client was not a gang member or an associate. He said Gevorgyan had gone to Hoover High School that afternoon to pick up a friend and had gotten out of the car to help defend Terteryan from a group of Latino teenagers who had surrounded him.

Flier said the Latinos chased Gevorgyan and beat him up during the fight. "My client never stabbed anybody," he said. "My client never killed anybody."

Both attorneys said the defendants were acting in self-defense.

The victim's mother, Leticia Aguirre, said outside court that she had been waiting three years for the trial. "It's painful for me, but it has to happen," she said.

Her only son was killed just days before his 18th birthday.

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