A Newport Beach pot dealer who gained fame by staging a daring escape from the Orange County jail while awaiting trial was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for kidnapping and torturing a marijuana dispensary owner who was sexually mutilated in the Mojave Desert.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett rejected a motion for a new trial before sentencing Hossein Nayeri, 41, to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, along with another seven years to life.
Nayeri, who has cycled through several defense attorneys since firing the attorney who represented him at trial, was convicted in August of last year of two counts of kidnapping for ransom and one count of torture. A burglary charge was dismissed earlier in the case.
Nayeri, who vociferously proclaimed his innocence from the witness stand during the trial, insisting he was being “railroaded” and set up as a fall guy by police and prosecutors, showed no reaction when the verdicts were read.
In his statement to the judge before sentencing, Nayeri referred to the victims by name, prompting Prickett to strike it from the record.
“To both victims … and their families, I am truly sorry for all you’ve been through,” Nayeri said, adding it was a “horrific nightmare.”
Nayeri then denied his involvement in the crimes.
“I have many flaws, but to hurt someone is not one of them,” he said.
Nayeri said he is “evolving,” and then quoted a song lyric, “As my hero Bob Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born you’re busy dying.”
Nayeri also criticized the prosecution.
“Here, the focus was to convict first,” he said. “John Wayne would have been dazzled by the wild west justice of shoot first and ask questions later. But like I always say, God bless America.”
Then Nayeri turned his ire on Prickett, saying it was a “pleasure and pain” legally wrangling with the judge.
“Sometimes debating with you is like debating with Donald Trump,” Nayeri said.
The victim who was sexually mutilated said he still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. The injuries to his arms make it difficult for him to even sleep, he said.
“I never feel 100 percent safe,” he said, adding he avoids large gatherings of people.
He said doctors have advised him that he “will have physical challenges and pain for the rest of my life,” telling the defendant that the recurring physical problems are “reminders of the savagery you visited on me.”
Referring finally to having his penis severed, he said, “What kind of human does such a thing?”
Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown said the other victim in the case was also “severely traumatized. I think it goes without saying she’ll also never know a night’s peace.”
Brown said she did not “think there’s a punishment harsh enough for Mr. Nayeri.”
Nayeri’s attorney, Renee Garcia, argued for the life terms to be run concurrently instead of consecutively.
But Prickett noted the violent nature of the crimes and the “callous disregard” for the victims “for the basest motive, greed.” The judge also said the pouring of bleach on the victim was likely an effort to erase any DNA evidence on his body.
As they were sexually mutilating the victim, Prickett said, the defendants were “laughing and chanting, `back and forth.”’
Prickett also noted how Nayeri fled to Iran and had to be tricked into traveling to the Czech Republic, because the U.S. has an extradition treaty with that country, and how Nayeri escaped from the Orange County Jail three weeks before one of his trial dates.
Retired prosecutor Matt Murphy, who had his last day at work as the trial wound down, told reporters after the sentencing hearing that Prickett handed down the maximum punishment for the “mastermind” of the kidnapping and torture caper.
“Nayeri is a psychopath, a truly diabolical criminal,” Murphy said.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said his office will continue to prosecute the escape case despite the fact Nayeri could not possibly get any more time in custody.
“To me, it’s quite clear we don’t know what the appellate court would do,” Spitzer said. “We don’t know what the legislature will do… We’re not going to take any risks whatsoever with Mr. Nayeri… He’s maniacal.”
For all of Nayeri’s cleverness, Spitzer said, the defendant proved on Friday he was “the dumbest person in the courtroom” because he insulted the victims and the judge.
“I hope he never sees the light of day,” Spitzer said. “I hope he dies in prison.”
Nayeri cycled through about a dozen attorneys after dumping his trial attorney, Sal Ciulla, who won praise from prosecutors for his skill during the proceedings. Many of those attorneys declined to take his case after being appointed to represent Nayeri, and he has tried at least a couple of times to fire Garcia.
Nayeri and two other men broke into a Newport Beach home where the dispensary owner was renting a room about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2012. The trio of masked assailants kidnapped the dispensary owner along with the homeowner, Mary Barnes, Brown said. The man had a shotgun pointed in his face, and when he tried to brush it aside, “the beating began,” she told jurors.
The man’s name is not being released because he is the victim of a sex crime.
According to prosecutors, the culprits were motivated by greed, mistakenly believing that the dispensary owner had buried roughly $1 million in the desert.
“There’s no doubt the motive in this case was money — a million dollars,” Brown told jurors. “In fact, a million dollars the victim didn’t have.”
During the abduction in Newport Beach, the male victim was “kicked and choked to the point he defecated in his pants,” Brown said.
The assailants put the man and Barnes into a van and made a 90-minute drive to the desert, during which they whipped him with a rubber hose, scorched him with a blowtorch and poured bleach on him as they repeatedly demanded he reveal where he had buried $1 million, she 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,” the prosecutor said.
In the desert, they stopped and took the victims out of the van and poured bleach all over the man, leading him to believe it was gasoline and that his assailants were going to “light him on fire,” Brown said. One of the men then took out a kitchen knife and slashed off the man’s penis, which was never found, she 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. 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, 41, who was previously sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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. A zip tie found at Handley’s Fountain Valley home was linked to co-defendant Ryan Anthony Kevorkian, who is awaiting trial, Brown said, as is co-defendant Naomi Rhodus (formerly Naomi Kevorkian).
Kevorkian, 41, and Rhodus, 40, cooperated with prosecutors are expected to be given plea bargains, Brown said.
A glove found in Handley’s pickup truck had DNA on it matching Nayeri, the prosecutor 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 persuade 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 re-established ties with his relatives in an effort to help authorities in a ruse to get Nayeri out of Iran, a country from which 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.
Ciulla suggested in his opening statement that Kevorkian and Handley were the ones who masterminded the abduction and that his client was not involved.
Nayeri testified in his own defense during the trial, insisting he had no role in the abduction and torture. He admitted spending months monitoring the victim’s movements through surveillance and GPS equipment, but said Handley was paying him to do so. He accused investigators of planting evidence to incriminate him, and he said he fled to Iran simply out of fear.
After being arrested, Nayeri made headlines for staging a daring jail escape with two other inmates in January 2016 and remaining on the lam for eight days. Nayeri testified that he felt he had no choice, and anyone else would have done the same “if you got railroaded as bad as I have.”
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