Lady Justice 3 16-9

A man who opened fire at a memorial event at a Valley Village restaurant, killing four people and wounding two others, should be sent to death row, a prosecutor said Monday, but a defense lawyer asked jurors to consider their “individual morals” and spare the man’s life.

Nerses Galstyan, 32, was convicted earlier this month of two counts of first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Vardan Tofalyan, 31, and Harut Baburyan, 28, along with one count of second-degree murder for the killing of Hayk Yegnanyan, 25, and one count of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Sarkis Karadjian, 26.

A jury found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, making Galstyan eligible for a death sentence.

The nine-man, three-woman jury is now charged with recommending whether the defendant be put to death for the crimes or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Anticipating a defense argument that Galstyan had no prior convictions and behaved well during his six years in jail awaiting trial, earning an education certificate, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Chung told jurors none of that “lessens the fact that he killed four people.”

Chung also reminded the panel of two surviving victims, one of whom lost an eye. The other has a bullet which remains lodged two inches from his spine, the prosecutor said.

Galstyan was convicted of the attempted voluntary manslaughter of the two men.

“We’re going to ask that you give him the death penalty,” the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Alex Kessel told the jury panel it was enough that his client would spend the rest of his life in prison.

“He’ll never get out again,” Kessel said.

Kessel said jurors had the opportunity to consider “your individual conscience, your individual morals.”

“Death is not appropriate,” the defense attorney said, adding that the voluntary manslaughter convictions — originally charged as attempted murders — showed “a belief that there (were) issues of protection, self-defense” behind the killings.

Galstyan “never had any acts of violence in his life,” prior to the shooting, Kessel said. “My client doesn’t deserve the death penalty.”

Yegnanyan’s mother took the stand and told jurors, “The whole world turned dark and cold for me,” when she learned her eldest son had died.

Under cross-examination, she described two of her son’s tattoos as memorializing the death of his stillborn daughter and one of his brothers, who had died as a toddler. She said she had “never, ever seen him carrying a knife.”

The younger sister of Baburyan said her brother had virtually raised her following the death of her mother when she was 5 years old.

“He was my world, he was everything to me,” Hermine Baburyan said.

Dealing with his death is “a daily struggle. I can’t say it gets better,” she told jurors.

It was undisputed during trial that Galstyan shot and killed Yegnanyan, Karadjian,  Baburyan and Tofalyan, who was described as the defendant’s best friend, at the Hot Spot restaurant on April 3, 2010.

Kessel argued, however, that the shooting was carried out in self- defense. He told jurors that Yegnanyan pulled a knife on Galstyan’s brother, Sam, outside the restaurant prior to the shooting.

Kessel said his client tried to defuse the situation by picking up Yegnanyan, hoisting him over his shoulder and turning in circles before putting him down. Yegnanyan then called Karadjian and Baburyan, who came armed to the memorial gathering, according to Kessel.

“My client, Nerses Galstyan, was the one targeted that day,” Kessel said, telling the jury that Galstyan only fired when Karadjian pulled a gun on him.

Galstyan and his brother testified that Yegnanyan had been pressing Sam Galstyan to run drugs through his motorcycle club, leading to escalating tension between the three men.

But Deputy District Attorney Thomas Trainor insisted that Galstyan “walked in ready to fire, bullet already in the chamber, no safety on.” The prosecutor said Galstyan “began firing as he walked in … round after round after round after round .. pausing to reload … stopping only when he ran out of bullets.”

Karadjian was “never able to chamber a round,” according to Trainor.

After the shooting, the Galstyan brothers fled to a Seattle, Washington suburb, where they were later arrested, because they were “two scared guys looking for “safety, not for sanctuary,” Kessel said.

Sam Galstyan was not charged in connection with the shooting.

— City News Service 

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