Three weeks after his live-in girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, a West Hollywood man murdered the woman and drained all the blood from her body, mirroring the script of a graphic novel he co-wrote, a prosecutor told jurors Friday.
“He authored the book Syndrome. … Just pay close attention to the baby on the cover,” Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef told jurors during her opening statement Blake Leibel’s trial, saying it “mimics what happened to the victim, Iana Kasian” in May 2016.
Leibel, 37, is charged with murder, torture and aggravated mayhem stemming from the 30-year-old woman’s killing in the condominium they shared. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder by torture and murder by mayhem.
The District Attorney’s Office opted not to seek the death penalty against Leibel, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if he is convicted as charged.
“This case reads like a movie script,” the prosecutor told jurors, adding that it was more like a horror movie about a “gruesome crime” that involved a “prolonged attack” in which Leibel’s girlfriend was “alive for the better part of the mutilation and mayhem.”
“He followed a script, as you will, in a book he authored — Syndrome,” Mokayef told the panel at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles.
One of the book’s co-authors is expected to testify that the concept of draining blood out of a victim’s body was thought up by Leibel — with the prosecutor telling jurors that Leibel’s girlfriend was left without any blood in her veins.
The woman’s nude body, which was covered with a Mickey Mouse blanket that had been used earlier in their newborn daughter’s nursery, was discovered May 26, 2016, in the couple’s blood-spattered master bedroom after Kasian’s mother called authorities to report that she had not been able to reach her daughter, the deputy district attorney said.
She showed jurors an illustration of a woman in the book and urged them to compare it with the crime scene, saying it’s “almost exactly like what you have” in the case.
Leibel had barricaded himself inside the master bedroom and came out in boxer shorts after his accountant showed up, with sheriff’s deputies discovering “blood everywhere,” Mokayef said.
The woman appeared to have been washed thoroughly and was missing her scalp and the right side of her face, and pieces of flesh were found in the room, the prosecutor said. She noted that part of the victim’s scalp and an ear were subsequently discovered in a trash bin at the bottom of a chute outside the condominium.
The prosecutor said Leibel hadn’t counted on the persistence of his girlfriend’s mother, who initially notified Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies about her daughter’s disappearance one day before her daughter was found dead and then again in a 911 call in which she pleaded, “Help me,” the day her daughter’s body was discovered.
After briefly consulting with her client, defense attorney Haydeh Takasugi told Superior Court Judge Mark Windham that she would reserve her opening statement until the start of the defense’s portion of the case.
The victim’s mother, Olga Kasian, who had traveled to the Los Angeles area from the Ukraine to help her daughter with her newborn child, was called as the prosecution’s first witness.
Through a Russian interpreter, the victim’s mother said she had been helping to care for the baby, who was staying with her at a Los Angeles apartment, and that she never saw her daughter alive after the two went shopping May 23, 2016, to look for a baby stroller. She said she spoke to her daughter once the following afternoon and then never heard from her again.
“Were you worried about your daughter?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” the woman responded, noting earlier that the two had been in constant telephonic communication with each other.