Newport Beach pot grower and jail escapee found guilty of masterminding abduction that included especially brutal torture

 In blog, Crime News: Los Angeles Daily News

Newport Beach pot grower and jail escapee found guilty of masterminding abduction that included especially brutal torture

by Sean Emery

A Newport Beach pot grower and jail escapee was found guilty Friday of masterminding the abduction of a marijuana dispensary owner that included the brutal torture the man and severing a body part.

Jurors, after four days of deliberation, convicted Hossein Nayeri of planning the headline-grabbing 2012 kidnapping and carrying it out with the aid of two high school friends in order to find a non-existent $1 million they believed the dispensary owner had buried in the Mojave desert.

In testimony that swung wildly from angry and combative to tearful, Nayeri, now 40, denied playing any role in the kidnapping, though he admitted to spending months surveilling the dispensary owner prior to the abduction.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, during his closing arguments, cautioned jurors against believing Nayeri, who he compared to a cult leader.

While awaiting trial, Nayeri teamed up with two other inmates to mastermind a daring escape from an Orange County jail – which also ended up in headlines – before being recaptured a little more than a week later.

“He has this ability to manipulate people, and he leaves a trail of destruction behind him wherever he goes,” Murphy said.

Nayeri’s attorney, Sal Ciulla, told jurors during his closing arguments that the raw nature of Nayeri’s testimony reflected innocence.

“How would you react if you were accused of something this twisted, this disgusting and this evil and you didn’t do it?” Ciulla asked.

The dispensary owner described waking up in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, 2012 to three masked men, at least one armed with a shotgun, in the Newport Beach home he was living in. The men bound and blindfolded him and the girlfriend of the man who owned the home before forcing the two into a van.

During the two-hour-plus drive to the Mojave Desert, the kidnappers cycled between demanding $1 million from the dispensary owner and torturing him with rubber piping, a Taser, and a blow torch. They ignored his pleas that he didn’t have the money.

Once in the desert, the kidnappers cut the dispensary owner’s penis off, and left he and the woman, still bound, behind. The woman was able to free herself and flag down a sheriff’s deputy. The dispensary owner survived, but the missing body part was never found.

Prosecutors had argued that Nayeri is the one who carried out the torture and the mutilation. Jurors, however, determined there wasn’t enough evidence to decide that he alone carried out those crimes.

“In the back of that van, that man had the power to change someones life,” Murphy said of Nayeri during his closing arguments. “And what did he do with that power? That act of singular cruelty, totally unnecessary, because he didn’t get what he wanted.”

Investigators eventually identified Nayeri, Kyle Handley and Ryan Kevorkian – former students at Clovis West High School in Fresno – as the men believed to have carried out the kidnapping and torture.

Investigators later determined that about a week prior to the kidnapping, Nayeri had fled from a Newport Beach motorcycle officer who tried to pull him over while he had cash and marijuana in his car. Nayeri eluded the officer, but left his vehicle – which had surveillance equipment and footage of the dispensary owner – behind for police to seize.

Police discovered that the surveillance equipment had been purchased, and registered under a fake name, by Naomi Rhodus, Kevorkian’s estranged wife. Rhodus, who prosecutors allege had an affair with Nayeri, is also accused of purchasing the weapons used in the kidnapping, as well as renting the van through a friend.

Nayeri fled to Iran after Handley’s arrest. His then-wife, Cortney Shegerian, eventually agreed to work with police, telling them who she believed was involved in the kidnapping and persuading Nayeri to leave Iran to visit her in another country where he could be arrested.

Nayeri testified that he was surveilling the dispensary owner at the request of Handley, who he was working with on a marijuana-grow operation. He alleged the dispensary owner owed Handley $300,000 for a marijuana deal, a claim the dispensary owner has denied.

After the police chase, Nayeri said he told Handley he couldn’t surveil the dispensary owner any longer, but failed to tell him that officers had the surveillance equipment. Nayeri’s attorney told jurors that Handley then decided to “take matters into his own hands.”

Prosecutors disagreed, describing Nayeri as the brains behind the scheme, and Handley and Kevorkian as “morons.”

As further evidence of his ability to carry out complicated plots, prosecutors pointed to Nayeri as the mastermind of a brazen jail escape by three inmates, which Nayeri testified that he carried out because he felt he was being “railroaded.”

Handley has already been convicted and sentenced to four life terms in prison. Kevorkian and Rhodus are still awaiting trial, though prosecutors have previously indicated they are cooperating with authorities.

For Murphy, arguably the most recognizable homicide prosecutor in Orange County, the Nayeri trial marked the end of a 26-year tenure in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He is leaving the office to work as a victims’ rights attorney and a television legal analyst.

All credit goes to Sean Emery
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