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Suspect in L.A. text-message slaying surrenders

The man, who had been tracked to Puerto Rico but got out on bail, appears at the Van Nuys courthouse with his lawyer. He is accused of shooting a 19-year-old man to death in North Hollywood in 2009.

July 15, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times
  • Artak Yepremyan and his wife Ani Atajyan look at a photograph of their slain son Mike Yepremyan, 19, last year.
Artak Yepremyan and his wife Ani Atajyan look at a photograph of their slain… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

For 18 months, the suspect in the shooting death of a teenager in a North Hollywood parking lot evaded police. Even after federal marshals hunted him down in Puerto Rico, Zareh Manjikian managed to bail out and flee again.

He hopped a flight out of the island territory by using his older brother's ID and assuming his identity, authorities said. He flew to Philadelphia, then Las Vegas, eluding authorities who seemed to be hot on his trail but always a day or two late.

The intercontinental manhunt led by the FBI came to an abrupt and surprising end Thursday when Manjikian, 23, voluntarily showed up at a Van Nuys courthouse, cleaned up and in a pressed shirt, his attorney in tow. He even gave an interview to a TV news reporter before making his way inside the courthouse, where a bailiff cuffed him and took him into custody.

The arrest came almost two years after Mike Yepremyan, 19, was killed.

According to authorities, the events that led to his November 2009 death began after he sent a text message to his girlfriend, calling her friend a bitch. The girl he insulted happened to see the text, authorities said and, enraged, called her brother to beat up Yepremyan. Soon after, Yepremyan began receiving phone calls from a stranger who told him to meet him at a Sears parking lot in North Hollywood, according to witnesses.

There, Yepremyan and several friends encountered two men. The conversation appeared to be coming to a peaceful conclusion when, suddenly, one man struck Yepremyan. Right after that, authorities said, Manjikian brandished a gun and shot the 19-year-old in the back of his head.

Manjikian and the other man, identified by prosecutors as Vahagn Jurian, sped off in a black BMW. Jurian, who police believed had fled to Armenia, was recently arrested outside his Van Nuys home.

The reason Manjikian returned to the U.S., according to a law enforcement source, is rooted in a request from a man who was employing him from the mainland. The man, the source said, is facing deportation and was offering to deliver Manjikian to authorities in exchange for having his own criminal convictions overturned.

A deal wasn't reached, but it appears the man, hoping to improve his case to stay in the U.S., persuaded Manjikian to return anyway.

"He may have called Manjikian himself; he makes it seem he has that kind of relationship with him," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he wasn't authorized to discuss the negotiations. "It appears they were trying to orchestrate something to benefit everybody. He could potentially benefit, and Manjikian didn't want to be on the run for the rest of his life either."

Authorities believe Manjikian has been in Los Angeles since early June. After a judge allowed him to be released on bail in Puerto Rico and he fled, LAPD Det. Thomas Townsend had to call the slain teenager's father to break it to him. This time, he was able to call Yepremyan's father, Art, with better news.

"We have Zareh Manjikian," he said in the phone call. "He's under arrest. We have him. Rest assured, we have him."

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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