Art Yepremyan, the father of Gombert "Mike" Yepremyan, addresses… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
Decrying "how much was lost for so little," a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Friday sentenced two men to lengthy prison terms for killing a teenager three years ago over an insulting text message.
Zareh Manjikian was sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison, and Vahagn Jurian was given a 25-years-to-life term in the shooting death of 19-year-old Gombert "Mike" Yepremyan.
"The life of a young man … is lost over a single, thoughtless word in a text message," Judge Gregory A. Dohi said. "This is the epitome of senselessness, and that strikes me."
Prosecutors said Yepremyan was targeted in November 2009 after firing off a text message to his girlfriend in which he referred to one of her friends as a "bitch." That friend, Khatun Vardanian, reportedly saw the message, became enraged and called her brother to beat up Yepremyan.
Yepremyan received phone calls from a stranger who asked to meet him at a Sears parking lot in North Hollywood, witnesses said. There, Yepremyan and several friends encountered two men. After talking briefly, one of the men hit Yepremyan and the second pulled out a gun and shot him in the back of the head, prosecutors said.
Manjikian was identified as the shooter and Jurian as the second man, but neither was arrested until 2011.
In August, a jury found Manjikian and Jurian, both 25, guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault. Vardanian, 23, and her brother, Hovik Dzhuryan, 20, were also convicted in August of conspiracy to commit assault. Each was sentenced Friday to five years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
The four defendants, wearing blue and orange jail jumpsuits, were kept behind a glass barrier during their sentencing hearing in the Van Nuys Courthouse West.
About 15 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies guarded the courtroom, where emotions were expected to run high. Family members of the victim were seated on one side of the courtroom, and family members of the defendants were kept on the other, with several rows of seats separating them. Before the hearing began, deputies warned the audience not to be disruptive.
The parents of Yepremyan gave emotional speeches before the sentences were read in which they remembered their son as a generous young man and spoke to the defendants.
"I wish I never met you guys," Ani Atajyan, Yepremyan's mother, said tearfully, looking at the defendants.
Atajyan thought her son was worried about the influence Vardanian could have on his girlfriend, of whom he was protective, she said.
Jurian's sisters, Anna and Ruzanna Jurian, wept as they read tributes to their brother before the sentencing was read. Ruzanna Jurian, in a poem she wrote, described her brother as "loving and caring … full of life and energy … then all of a sudden his world came crashing to the ground."
"Convicting an innocent for a loss of life is neither justice, closure nor revenge," Ruzanna Jurian said. "For my brother, we will not stop for anything."
Jurian, who authorities believed had fled to Armenia, was arrested in 2011 after police staked out his Van Nuys home. As his sentence was read by the judge, his sisters sobbed loudly.
Manjikian was initially picked up in Puerto Rico, but a judge there granted him bail, and he vanished, authorities said. He then apparently used his brother's ID to fly out of the island territory, first to Philadelphia and then to Las Vegas before finally surrendering in Van Nuys.
Vardanian, who kept her head down during most of the hearing, wept as she made a statement before the sentencing was read.
"I am not cold-hearted," she said. "I am not a sociopath.... I know my honesty is in question and my sincerity is too.... I'm not violent, and I didn't conspire to do anything."
Dohi denied the individual requests of all four defendants for new trials. After reading the sentencings, he said it was tragic "how easily things could have turned out differently" the night of Yepremyan's death.