A man who opened fire at a memorial event at a Valley Village restaurant, killing four people and wounding two others, is set to be sentenced this summer to life in prison.
A prosecutor had argued that 32-year-old Nerses Galstyan should be sent to death row, but jurors recommended Friday that the defendant spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
A hearing is scheduled for June 23, when a date is expected to be set for sentencing.
Galstyan was convicted in March 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.
The nine-man, three-woman jury found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, which made Galstyan eligible for the death penalty.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Deputy District Atttorney Jonathan Chung acknowledged that Galstyan had no prior convictions and behaved well during his six years in jail awaiting trial. But none of that “lessens the fact that he killed four people,” Chung said, in urging the panel to recommend a death sentence.
Chung also reminded the jury of the two surviving victims. One of the men lost an eye, and the other has a bullet which remains lodged two inches from his spine, the prosecutor said. Galstyan was convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter involving both men.
Defense attorney Alex Kessel argued that a lifelong prison sentence was punishment enough.
“He’ll never get out again,” Kessel said, asking jurors to consider “your individual conscience, your individual morals” in arguing that “death is not appropriate.”
Kessel said the attempted voluntary manslaughter convictions — originally charged as attempted murders — showed “a belief that there (were) issues of protection, self-defense” behind the killings.
He also argued that Galstyan “never had any acts of violence in his life” prior to the shooting and “doesn’t deserve the death penalty.”
It was undisputed 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 during trial 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