The suspected mastermind of a three-man escape from a Southern California jail says he never intended to harm anyone during his eight days on the run.
In a jailhouse interview, Hossein Nayeri told the Orange County Register that he didn't want anyone to get hurt and asserted that he was innocent of the kidnapping and torture charges that landed him in jail two years ago.
"I'm a nice guy," he said Friday. "I've done a lot of things for humanity that are opposite of what I have been accused of."
He declined to elaborate.
Nayeri, 37, who was recaptured Jan. 30 after traveling 400 miles to the San Francisco Bay Area, added that being a fugitive was more stressful than liberating.
"I wouldn't say it was enjoyable," he said.
Nayeri, 20-year-old murder suspect Jonathan Tieu and 43-year-old attempted murder suspect Bac Duong escaped from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana on Jan. 22 by sawing through a metal grate, climbing inside jail walls to reach the roof and rappelling down four stories using a rope made of sheets.
Authorities said the trio received help from an outside contact who smuggled in a knife and gave them a ride to safety. They eluded authorities until their alliance allegedly unraveled after a dispute about whether to kill a cab driver they had taken hostage.
The cab driver said Nayeri wanted to kill him and Duong did not.
Nayeri declined to comment on the matter.
Nayeri said he closely followed news coverage of the escape and manhunt during his time on the run and insisted he was not the villain portrayed by the media and prosecutors.
"The media coverage was insane. I was convicted in the court of public opinion. It blows my mind."
After being returned to jail, Nayeri's lawyer requested to delay his trial on charges of kidnapping and torturing a marijuana dispensary owner by burning him with a blow torch and cutting off his penis. Defense lawyer Salvatore P. Ciulla said he needed more time to address issues in the case and was concerned about seating an impartial jury following widespread publicity of the jailbreak.
Nayeri said that at the beginning of his time in jail, he was very emotional and cried often.
"[Now] I'm numb. I can't believe I'm still here," he told the newspaper.