Prosecutors Assail Light Sentence in Shoot-Out
Los Angeles County prosecutors, furious that a judge turned loose a man who pleaded guilty to attempted murder in a $1.3-million jewelry robbery and shoot-out, have filed legal documents to overturn the recent sentencing, claiming that it was illegal.
The highly unusual action is being taken in the case of Akop Jack Mkrtchyan, 25, of Los Angeles, who fired repeatedly at a security guard after tying up a jeweler in a downtown office building and--along with a partner--filling a shoe box with diamonds.
For the record:
12:00 AM, Nov. 24, 1985 For The Record Key Information Deleted by Error
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 24, 1985 Home Edition Metro Part 2 Page 3 Column 2 Metro Desk 4 inches; 131 words Type of Material: Correction
Due to an editing error, key information was left out of a story in The Times on Saturday about the Los Angeles County district attorney’s attempts to overturn a judge’s decision to grant probation to a man who pleaded guilty to attempted murder.
The story said that the man’s attorney, Charles E. Lloyd, acknowledged in an interview that he was friendly with the sentencing judge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Everett E. Ricks, and had been appointed to several cases by him.
The following paragraphs were erroneously deleted:
However, Lloyd emphasized, “all the judges here appoint me to cases. I’ve been in the system a long time. . . . All the judges down here I know and there are many judges down here I know far better than I know Judge Ricks. And I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”
Said Ricks: “I know all the attorneys around here. I was an attorney for 10 years. . . . I’ve been a judge for 13 years. (Lloyd) is no special anything.”
In all, 11 shots were fired across the building’s lobby by Mkrtchyan--who, police said, shot first--and the guard, Willie Presley, 54, during the Dec. 6, 1983, gun battle, before Presley forced the two to surrender.
In deciding not to send Mkrtchyan to prison last month, Superior Court Judge Everett E. Ricks ignored recommendations of the district attorney’s office and the county Probation Department calling for Mkrtchyan to receive the maximum term of 11 years.
No Explanation Given
Instead, without explanation, Ricks freed Mkrtchyan--who had been in jail awaiting sentencing--by issuing a nine-year suspended sentence, placing the defendant on probation for five years and imposing a $5,000 fine.
Before doing so, Ricks struck the portion of Mkrtchyan’s guilty plea in which he admitted having used a gun--which would have required the judge to send him to prison. Prosecutors argue that such action is illegal because the state Supreme Court, in the well-known 1979 Tanner “Use-a-Gun, Go-to-Prison” case, ruled that judges have no authority to strike such gun-use allegations.
“He doesn’t have the right,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey C. Jonas, head deputy of the office’s Central Trials division. “In addition, Judge Ricks did not set forth on the record any reason. . . . I don’t believe there’s anything he could have said to explain why he did it. It’s inconceivable to me that it happened.”
On Friday, the district attorney’s office filed a motion for reconsideration of the sentences of both Mkrtchyan and his companion, Gary Gulessarian, 25, who pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced by Ricks to five years’ probation and 180 days in County Jail. Gulessarian, who is currently serving his jail term, did not fire his weapon during the shoot-out.
Meanwhile, Jonas said, his office is also moving forward with a possible appeal before the state Court of Appeal, in case the resentencing bid fails.
Agrees to Hearing
Ricks, who said that state law prevents him from discussing the pending case, agreed Friday to schedule a hearing Wednesday on the district attorney’s motion.
Mkrtchyan’s lawyer, Charles E. Lloyd, said his client plans to show up in court for the hearing. At that time, Lloyd added, Mkrtchyan, a Soviet Armenian emigre and a jeweler by trade, may well ask that the Court of Appeals decide the issue.
“I certainly don’t think (Judge Ricks) made a mistake,” Lloyd added. “Most dispositions cases (at the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles) either go before Judge Gordon Ringer or Judge Ricks, because they are experienced judges.”
Mkrtchyan’s sentencing was transferred to Ricks at Lloyd’s request after the guilty plea was entered in August before Superior Court Judge David A. Workman.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lucienne A. Coleman said she agreed to Lloyd’s request because neither she nor Lloyd were enthusiastic about having Workman undertake the sentencing.
Lloyd, Coleman recalled, told her, “ ‘Look, you don’t like Judge Workman and I don’t like Judge Workman. . . .’ (Then) he said, ‘Would you mind if it went to Judge Ricks.’ He said, ‘Both you and I know he (the defendant) is going to get 11 years, but I can make my argument to the judge.’ ”
Assuming that the sentence was clear-cut, Coleman, who had business in another court, turned over the case to another prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Yglecias, minutes before the hearing in Ricks’ court.
In court, Yglecias argued that Mkrtchyan--who prosecutors were sure would receive a minimum of seven years-- deserved the maximum. “I think the 11 years to which the defendant is exposed falls short of what a just sentence would be in this case,” he said.
If Presley had not had a second gun in his waistband, which he was able to draw when his first ran out of bullets, the young attorney asserted, “the circumstances suggest an execution-style murder was contemplated.”
But Lloyd, a veteran defense counsel who boasts of having tried more murder cases than any other lawyer in Los Angeles County, countered with a passionate--and ultimately, persuasive-- appeal.
“Your honor, this is one of the most difficult cases I have ever handled,” Lloyd said. “It is difficult because this defendant comes from a very, very, very, very, very outstanding family.
”. . . Your honor, the police officer (Jimmy Wade Pearson) that told other officers that there was a bomb on the bus during the Olympics received no time. . . . (Los Angeles Police) Chief (Daryl) Gates’ son received a County Jail sentence for an armed robbery case.
“And I am not saying that is unfair; I am saying, and I am saying it very loudly and very clearly, that there are other people sometimes in life that are worthy of consideration. And Mr. Mkrtchyan is such a person.”
Lloyd also cited the report of a psychiatrist--who had been appointed by Ricks at Lloyd’s request--who said Mkrtchyan’s antisocial behavior was uncharacteristic and could be attributed to heavy cocaine use. He recommended that Mkrtchyan, who had no previous arrests, be freed.
Ricks then granted Mkrtchyan probation, including credit for 566 days already served in County Jail.
To Jonas, the case is representative of some of the worst aspects of the legal justice system in Los Angeles County--in particular, the practice of “forum shopping.”
Often, he explained, defense attorneys will seek to bring their cases before judges who are likely to be the most lenient.
“We could eliminate (the problem),” he said, “if we had a uniform philosophy and if we were hard enough across the board.”
“The thing that is so puzzling to me (in this case),” Jonas added, “is based on the reputation Judge Ricks has, this is totally out of character. He is a strong, evenhanded and fair judge.
"(But) this is a favor to Mr. Mkrtchyan for whatever reason, or to his attorney.”
Lloyd, for his part, maintains that the sentence was equitable. Pearson and Gates, he said, did not go to prison, so it is also fair that his client should not be imprisoned.
As for the fact that, unlike Mkrtchyan, Pearson and Gates did not shoot at anyone, Lloyd responded, "(my client) didn’t kill anyone.”
Lloyd, in a brief interview, acknowledged that he is friendly with Ricks and that the judge has appointed him to several cases over the years. Times staff writer Robert W. Stewart contributed to this story.