An ex-Marine and a cracker-bread heiress will stand trial in man's choking death

A judge has ordered an heiress and an ex-Marine accused in the choking death of a 31-year-old man in Glendale last year to stand trial on murder charges.

The decision came after a two-day preliminary hearing this week during which witnesses recounted the moments leading up to the death of John Michael King-Smith.

The case stretches back to a September evening when Sparkle Soojian, 33, said she returned home to find that a window screen had been sliced open, according to evidence presented in court. Inside, King-Smith — her former roommate's ex-boyfriend, against whom she had a restraining order — was in a towel after having showered, cutting his hair in the bathroom with a kitchen knife.

"My stalker broke into my house," she texted to at least two people. "Please come over. I can't talk on the phone. I'm begging you to come over now. I'm scared."

A Glendale detective, however, testified that a chair covered in dusty beer bottles sat right under the window, undisturbed, casting doubt on whether King-Smith actually climbed through the window to enter.

Among those who received the text was Soojian’s friend Ernest Johnson, who testified Tuesday that, while on his way to her home, he asked what she wanted him to do. As he pulled up outside, another text came through.

"I want you to kill him," she wrote. "I'm serious. We need to get rid of the body."

Johnson said that he didn't take Soojian seriously and went inside. King-Smith was banging on Soojian's upstairs bedroom door, yelling to be let in. Soojian was in the room with two other people.

Johnson testified that King-Smith verbally confronted him before attacking him with a tennis racket, prompting Johnson to punch him in the face. Someone subsequently opened the door, and the group ended up downstairs. During an argument there, King-Smith spit blood in Soojian's face.

At 1:19 a.m., Soojian — heiress of Ak-Mak, an international Armenian cracker-bread company — texted her then-boyfriend, an ex-Marine named Jared Kasiewicz.

"It's really bad, come in now," she wrote.

As Johnson told King-Smith to leave, Kasiewicz came through a sliding door "like a ninja" and tackled King-Smith to the ground, placing him in a chokehold, Johnson testified.

"We need to handle this," Kasiewicz told Johnson.

That's when, Johnson said, he left.

Video captured at the scene reportedly shows Kasiewicz, 28, on top of King-Smith, asking those around him for cords or ropes to tie him up.

"You don't need to tie up dead people," Kasiewicz's attorney Andrew Goldman said Wednesday, arguing that his client was defending a loved one and did not intend to kill King-Smith. The prosecutor, meanwhile, argued that Kasiewicz was "staging a scene."

Soojian's attorney Joseph Gutierrez called his client's text to Johnson a "spontaneous remark taken out of context." When her friends showed up to help, she did not direct anyone to kill King-Smith, he said.

"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that resulted in the death of another human being, but it did not add up to murder," said Soojian's other attorney, Garo Ghazarian.

According to court testimony, Kasiewicz tied King-Smith's wrists to his feet and told the three others in the room: "I wasn't here.”

Kasiewicz didn't want to get Soojian in trouble for violating a court order from a pending domestic violence case to stay away from him, Goldman argued.

At 1:49 a.m., Soojian called police to report a break-in.

She told the dispatcher that her neighbors had tied up King-Smith and that she didn't want to get evicted over the incident.

"Does anyone need an ambulance?" the dispatcher asked, according to a recording of the call played in court.

"No, we're fine," she replied.

King-Smith was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Soojian and Kasiewicz, who each face one count of murder, are due back in court next month.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Tchekmedyian writes for Times Community News

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