A 38-year-old man was convicted Thursday of taking part in the kidnapping of an Orange County marijuana dispensary owner who was tortured then sexually mutilated by abductors who mistakenly thought the victim had buried his pot-business profits in the desert.
Kyle Shirakawa Handley was convicted of two counts of kidnapping for extortion and single counts of aggravated mayhem and torture. He faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced March 23.
The nine-man, three-woman jury deliberated for about 80 minutes.
“We’re grateful for the Newport Beach Police Department and the hard work of an excellent jury,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy. “They came to the right conclusion against this defendant. And we hope this verdict provides some solace to the victims in this case.”
Murphy said Handley, who was a marijuana grower, had befriended the dispensary owner and saw the victim flashing cash while on a trip to Las Vegas, where they stayed in a high-priced suite.
Months later, on Oct. 2, 2012, the dispensary owner and his female landlord were abducted from their Newport Beach home about 2:30 a.m. and taken to the Mojave Desert.
The prosecutor said the abductors believed the dispensary owner had buried $1 million in the desert, since banks do not accept proceeds from marijuana sales. When they realized there was no buried money, they cut off the man’s penis and threw it out the window of the van they used to flee the scene, Murphy said.
The kidnappers left the woman a knife so she could cut zip ties they had used to bind her feet. She was then able to walk to a highway, where a Kern County sheriff’s deputy spotted her, the prosecutor said.
A key witness in the trial was Cortney Shegerian, the ex-wife of co- defendant Hossein Nayeri, 39, who was one of three Orange County Jail inmates who escaped from custody in 2016 and sparked a statewide manhunt.
Shegerian cut a deal with prosecutors and helped investigators lure Nayeri out of Iran, where he fled following the dispensary owner’s abduction and mutilation, Murphy said.
Shegerian testified that she heard Handley laughing and playing with a blow torch, one of the tools used to torture the man, two weeks before the victim and his landlord were abducted.
Investigators found a zip tie in Handley’s home that contained DNA of another co-defendant, Ryan Anthony Kevorkian, 38, and a blue latex glove found at Handley’s home had DNA on it matching Nayeri’s, prosecutors said.
Nayeri and Kevorkian are still awaiting trial. Nayeri is scheduled to go on trial next in March.
On Sept. 26, 2012, Nayeri led police on a chase in Newport Beach and got away, but police recovered his vehicle, which had surveillance cameras and GPS trackers in it, Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown said. Videos found in the Chevrolet Tahoe — which belonged to Handley — showed hours of surveillance of the residence where the dispensary owner lived with the abducted woman and her boyfriend, Brown said.
A break came in the case came when Shegerian went to claim Handley’s Chevy Tahoe from the Newport Beach impound yard, Brown said.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Robert Weinberg said it was just as plausible to believe that Nayeri had hired other people to help pull off the heist and left behind evidence pointing to Handley.
“He’s the perfect fall guy here,” Weinberg said.
There’s nothing to show, other than a couple of photos of all the defendants together, that indicated Nayeri and Handley were “best friends,” Weinberg said, though he conceded they were business partners in a marijuana- growing business.
Weinberg also attacked the credibility of Shegerian.
Looking at his watch, the defense attorney said, “If she told me it was 2:15 and I checked my watch and it showed 2:15 I’m still not sure I’d believe her.”
Weinberg also noted there was no evidence presented during the trial linking his client to the abduction via cell phone tracking.
“If there was any evidence in the area by cell phone pinging, by golly we’d hear about it,” Weinberg said.
–City News Service
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