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Motorist gets 15 years for assault

O.C. man who was run down and permanently disabled refuses to forgive his assailant, whose family wails in court over the sentence.

June 19, 2007|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

His voice booming in anger and laced with obscenities, a former football coach permanently disabled by brain trauma refused Monday to forgive the driver who ran him down after a parking lot dispute in south Orange County and implored a judge to hand down the maximum sentence against a "wild animal who needs to be locked in a cage."

John Royston, 43, of Aliso Viejo had the last word in a packed Santa Ana courtroom where Morteza Bakhtiari, 27, of Costa Mesa was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence.

Bakhtiari plowed into Royston in January 2006 after both men had been drinking earlier with separate groups of friends at a popular restaurant in Aliso Viejo.

"He deserves to serve every second," Royston said. "Put this animal in a cage and let him rot in prison. I don't care how long it takes."

During the sentencing hearing in Orange County Superior Court, Bakhtiari's mother and sister begged Royston's family for forgiveness and the judge for mercy.

They shrieked and wept uncontrollably after Bakhtiari was sentenced and escorted in shackles from the courtroom.

"I lost my brother. I lost my brother," Neda Aquirre screamed after becoming physically ill in the courtroom.

"I don't want to live. I want to die," his mother, Zahra Farmand, repeated as a friend held her up on her feet.

The courtroom was cleared and paramedics were called to provide the family with medical assistance. But by the time they arrived, the women refused treatment.

"I don't want any help," Farmand angrily yelled at medics and several sheriff's deputies who attempted to come to their aid. Then she blamed them for her son's punishment. "You didn't help us. No one helped us."

The high emotions echoing in a packed courtroom brought a chaotic close to a high-profile case that began with a splash of soda outside Opah Restaurant & Bar.

Bakhtiari was convicted in April of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit-and-run driving after a three-week trial that painted two completely different versions of what happened after Royston tossed a beverage into Bakhtiari's car.

Prosecutors said a seething Bakhtiari aimed his BMW at Royston and critically wounded him before fleeing the scene.

The defense characterized the incident as an accident and Royston as a provocateur, arguing that the former assistant football coach at Santa Margarita High School was emboldened by alcohol and picked a fight with Bakhtiari, who used his car as a means of escape.

Bakhtiari's attorney, Joseph Cavallo, asked Judge Francisco P. Briseno to give his client a five-year sentence.

Bakhtiari, addressing the court after his mother and sister, pleaded with Briseno to grant him "tremendous" mercy. Echoing his mother and sister, he maintained that jurors got it all wrong because he is not capable of attempted murder.

He also reminded the court that as a teenager, he had saved an infant from choking while he was working as a waiter.

"I do feel I need to be punished, but not unfairly," Bakhtiari said.

He turned to face Royston and told him he was sorry "from the bottom of my heart" and to beg for his forgiveness.

"I truly, deeply apologize to you," he said. "I love you. I pray for you.... I beg you to forgive me in your heart and let go of your resentment."

But Royston turned him down. After listening to his wife and two daughters weep through their statements to the court, Royston said he has been "crippled financially and physically" and can no longer do the things he loves to do, primarily coach football.

He said the toll on his family is immeasurable, especially for his wife, Arlene, who has been under intense stress while working twice as hard to pay the bills.

"I will never be able to forgive you for what you did to my family," Royston said.

christine.hanley@latimes.com

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