A 40-year-old man helped kidnap a marijuana dispensary owner, along with a friend who was renting him a room in her house, and then tortured the Newport Beach businessman before sexually mutilating him in a failed effort to steal $1 million, a prosecutor alleged Wednesday, while the defendant’s attorney told jurors that his client is innocent and plans to testify.
Hossein Nayeri — who made headlines for staging a daring escape from the Orange County Jail with two other inmates in January 2016 and remaining on the lam for eight days while awaiting trial — is charged with two counts of kidnapping for ransom and single counts of aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary, with a sentencing enhancement allegation of inflicting great bodily injury on one of the victims.
Nayeri and two other men broke into the Newport Beach home of the victims on Oct. 2, 2012, and drove them out to the Mojave Desert, Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown alleged.
“There’s no doubt the motive in this case was money — a million dollars,” Brown said in her opening statement. “In fact, a million dollars the victim didn’t have.”
After hearing the evidence in the case, “you will be sitting there asking yourself who could have done such horrifying acts,” the prosecutor told the jury.
The man whose penis was slashed off in the attack was renting a room in the Newport Beach home of Mary Barnes and her boyfriend, who was not home at the time of the break-in. Nayeri and several other defendants in the abductions had been using GPS trackers on the man’s vehicle and were watching the home with surveillance cameras, Brown alleged.
Barnes and the man, whose name is not being released because he is the victim of a sex crime, were roused by the trio of masked abductors about 2:30 a.m., Brown said. The man had a shotgun pointed in his face, and when he tried to brush it aside, “the beating began,” Brown said.
“He was kicked and choked to the point he defecated in his pants,” she said. “Then they dragged him down the stairs, hitting his head on each step, thunk, thunk, thunk.”
On the 90-minute to two-hour drive to the desert, they whipped him with a rubber hose, scorched him with a blow-torch and poured bleach on him as they repeatedly demanded him to reveal where he had buried $1 million, Brown said.
The man said he didn’t have that much money but he would be willing to take them to his medical marijuana dispensary and give them about $34,000, “but that wasn’t enough,” she said.
During the ride, the men at times spoke in fluent English but at other times appeared to be using “fake Mexican accents,” Brown said. At some point, they stopped and took the victims out of the van and poured bleach all over the man, leaving a footprint on him, she said.
“He thought it was gasoline and they were going to light him on fire,” Brown said.
Then one of the men took out a kitchen knife and slashed off the man’s penis, which was never found, the prosecutor said. They left the knife, telling Barnes if she could find it, she could free herself before dying, Brown said.
After they drove off, Barnes nudged her blindfold off with her knees and managed to find the knife, which she used to undo the zip ties binding her feet, but she couldn’t cut off the ones on her hands, Brown said. Unable to get her roommate free of his bonds, she ran barefoot about a mile through the desert to a highway, where a Kern County sheriff’s deputy saw her and helped get the man to Antelope Valley Medical Center.
A break in the investigation came courtesy of a neighbor who saw a suspicious pickup truck near the victims’ home about the time of the abduction and took down a license plate number, which led police to co-defendant Kyle Handley, 40, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole for his part in the crimes.
Handley, a marijuana grower who had sold product to the dispensary owner, had been a guest of the victim when he went on gambling trips to Las Vegas, but they had fallen out of touch, Brown said.
Handley went to high school in Fresno with Nayeri and other defendants in the case, the prosecutor said. A zip tie found at Handley’s Fountain Valley home was linked to co-defendant Ryan Anthony Kevorkian, 40, who is awaiting trial, Brown said. A glove found in Handley’s pickup truck had DNA on it matching Nayeri, she said.
Nayeri’s name rang a bell with investigators as he had led Newport Beach police on a high-speed chase on Sept. 26, 2012, before getting away. The Chevrolet Tahoe used in the chase was still in the impound yard as police were investigating the abductions, Brown said.
Nayeri’s then-wife, Cortney Shegarian, attempted to retrieve the vehicle, leading police to eventually convince the then-law school student to cooperate with authorities.
Shegarian, who had been estranged from Nayeri’s family, attended an uncle’s funeral in Spain and reestablished ties with his relatives in an effort to help authorities in a ruse to get Nayeri out of Iran, where he had fled, to a country where he could be extradited, Brown said. The Iranian native, who grew up in Fresno, eventually agreed to get on a plane and was arrested in Prague in the Czech Republic, she said.
“And here we are, seven years later,” Brown said. “We know who did it … And after you hear all the evidence, so will you.”
Nayeri’s attorney, Sal Ciulla, however, suggested in his opening statement that Kevorkian and Handley were the ones who masterminded the abduction and that his client was not involved.
Ciulla acknowledged that Nayeri worked for Handley doing surveillance of the marijuana dispensary owner because he owed Handley a great deal of money and Handley was concerned he might “disappear” without paying his debt.
After Nayeri eluded a motorcycle cop. he told Handley he wanted to quit the job, so Handley paid him off and that may have been the last time the two talked, Ciulla said.
The defense attorney said Kevorkian’s ex-wife, who is a gang member with a gang tattoo on her face, will testify in the case.
Noting that the neighbor who jotted down Handley’s license plate number and the victim told investigators the intruders were Latino, Ciulla said, “Maybe (they) were right that Mexicans were involved” in the abductions.
Ciulla said none of the defendants are Mexican or speak Spanish.
He also attacked the credibility of the victim, saying he believes the evidence will show he was running an illegal marijuana operation. He also questioned the credibility of Shegarian, saying she was planning to leave Nayeri at the time for another man she has since married, and that she told authorities what they wanted to hear so she could save her burgeoning law career and get away with some of the fortune Nayeri had amassed.
Nayeri also plans to testify in the trial, Ciulla said.
“My client has nothing to hide,” he said.
“At the end of the case, you will have a full picture of what this case is all about,” Ciulla said. “I have no doubt you’re going to find Mr. Nayeri not guilty.”
Testimony will begin Thursday morning
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