A jury found Thursday that a Mission Viejo man was sane when he killed a woman he had once dated by setting her on fire with acid and gasoline inside her car last year.
Hossein Ghaffari, 36, pleaded guilty two weeks ago to first-degree murder and special circumstances of torture and lying in wait in the Feb. 2, 1990, death of Manaji Bolouri, 35, a registered nurse. She was found burned to death in her car, which was parked near her Laguna Hills home just off Alicia Parkway near Interstate 5.
Ghaffari's attorney, Jack W. Earley, said his client entered the plea so that jurors could focus on the sanity phase of the trial.
"This is clearly a case of a man who had such a delusional obsession with this woman that he didn't know what he was doing," Earley said after Ghaffari's guilty plea.
If Ghaffari's jury had found him insane, he would have been automatically sentenced to a state mental facility for an undetermined amount of time.
Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard set Ghaffari's sentencing for July 3.
After two days of deliberation, jurors rejected Earley's defense. One of them said afterwards that it was a letter Ghaffari had written to his family just two hours before the killing that probably tipped the scales toward a sanity verdict.
Ghaffari had written in the two-page letter, found at his home, that he was about to embark on an act of revenge that could result in either the loss of his life or many years in jail.
"It will destroy my life forever," Ghaffari wrote, " . . . but this act of revenge can only calm my heart."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Pat Donahue argued to the jury that Ghaffari's knowledge that he could go to jail indicated he knew the difference between right and wrong.
"The letter is open to many interpretations," Donahue said after the jury verdict. "It one sense, it was almost like a last will and testament. But it also showed a man who was about to go out and kill somebody."
Ghaffari had dated Bolouri in Germany almost 10 years ago, but according to prosecutors she was never serious about him. When she returned to the United States, Ghaffari first went to Canada, then eventually to Southern California, where he attempted again to win her over.
But Bolouri told family and friends that while she did not mind being with him occasionally as a friend, he had begun harassing her.
A witness had seen Ghaffari waiting for almost an hour outside Bolouri's house before she came out to go to work. Prosecutors said Ghaffari then rammed his car into hers, jumped from his own damaged vehicle and poured both hydrofluoric acid and gasoline on her before setting her on fire.
Prosecutors filed a torture finding against him because they believed that Ghaffari meant to inflict pain and suffering on her before she died. The special circumstances finding could mean an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against Ghaffari, a cabinetmaker, because he had no criminal background.
Ghaffari did not testify, but a psychiatrist testified that the defendant told him he meant to kill himself when he rammed his car into Bolouri's vehicle. But prosecutor Donahue argued to the jury that a man bent on murder and suicide with a car crash doesn't also bring along a canister of acid.