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Man Acquitted in Kidnapping of Girl, Mother

One of four suspects accused of abducting the Woodland Hills pair for ransom is cleared.

March 31, 2004|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

A Van Nuys jury this week acquitted one of four men accused of kidnapping at gunpoint the wife and daughter of a car dealership employee as part of a business dispute last spring.

In addition to acquitting Clarence McGill, the jury on Monday deadlocked on a verdict for Roberto Sandoval, voting 8 to 4 for his acquittal.

A third man, Kaveh Kamyab, suspected of being the mastermind of the kidnapping, is awaiting trial. The fourth, Torvalds Gubins, is still a fugitive.

"I used to believe in the justice system 100%," Jean Antoun said Tuesday from his dealership, Felix Chevrolet near USC. "The justice system failed."

Kidnappers forced their way into Antoun's Woodland Hills home last spring, took his wife and daughter at gunpoint and demanded that he pay a $200,000 ransom.

Antoun, who was made to wear what he was told was a vest wired with explosives, followed their orders to go to the car dealership where he worked to get the money. But while there, he scribbled a note to a colleague, who immediately called police.

Sylvia Antoun and her 12-year-old daughter were later rescued from the bathroom of a San Fernando Valley storage facility, where they had been held for more than 24 hours.

Antoun identified McGill in a photo lineup and in court as the man who had pointed a gun at his head. "The person I saw was acquitted," he said.

He added that he hoped the jurors could "live with their conscience."

But McGill's attorney said his client had not been involved in the kidnapping and that it had been a case of mistaken identification. None of the original descriptions given by the Antouns of the suspects' height, hair and age matched his client, he said.

Sandoval's attorney, Bob Ross, said his client had not participated in the kidnapping and, at the time, had been at the restaurant he owned. But later on the day of the incident, Sandoval rode in a car with two of the kidnappers and unknowingly picked up a bag that held the guns used in the crime, his attorney said.

"Thank God for the jury system," Ross said. "They heard the evidence and they refused to convict him."

The prosecutor who tried the case could not be reached for comment, but Deputy Dist. Atty Phil Wynn said his office would review it to decide whether to retry Sandoval.

In the kidnapping, which occurred on April 17, prosecutors alleged that three of the defendants, posing as law enforcement officers, forced their way into the family's home. They stole jewelry and between $4,000 and $5,000 in cash before wiring Jean Antoun with a fake bomb and taking his wife and daughter.

The kidnappers threatened to kill the family if Antoun did not pay the ransom, authorities said. His wife and daughter were handcuffed, gagged and hidden at a Lake View Terrace storage facility.

After police were called, they went to the Antoun home and realized that the family's Mercedes sedan was missing. Through a tracking device on the car, officers located it in a mall parking lot. Police placed the vehicle under surveillance, and watched as an sport utility vehicle pulled up next to it. They saw the driver get out and take what appeared to be a student's book bag out of the Mercedes.

Authorities said that Kamyab, driving the SUV, went to the storage facility and then to a hotel room, where police discovered a copy of a lawsuit Kamyab had filed against Antoun. The suit alleged that Antoun had reneged on a deal to send people seeking rental cars to Kamyab's agency.

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