A La Canada Flintridge man was found not guilty Tuesday of charges that he smashed a car windshield with a pool cue to retaliate against the young man he blamed for repeatedly vandalizing his house.
After deliberating for one hour, a Glendale Municipal Court jury decided that Ara Aprahamian, a 48-year-old real estate broker, was not guilty of vandalism because he damaged a window that was already broken and was therefore worthless.
Judge Joseph F. De Vanon had instructed the jury that something of value must be damaged or destroyed for them to return a vandalism conviction.
The relatively minor criminal charge was filed in March by a prosecutor who said he was trying to stop an increasingly violent feud between the Aprahamian family and Patrick Glen Johnston, 22, a former La Crescenta resident who now lives in Newport Beach.
Johnston, who was charged with vandalizing the Aprahamians' house, pleaded no contest in May to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace. But Ara Aprahamian refused a similar plea agreement and insisted on taking his case to a jury.
"I feel great," Aprahamian said after the verdict. "This case should never have been tried. It was pouring salt into the wound."
Aprahamian said his family was terrorized by acts of vandalism and anonymous telephone threats for three months, beginning in November. The homeowner said he suspected that the trouble was caused by Johnston, who was angry at his son, Greg Aprahamian, 18.
Shortly after midnight Feb. 9, Ara Aprahamian parked his car in a neighbor's driveway, hoping to catch a vandal in the act. Aprahamian testified that a 1990 Saab pulled up and Johnston and several companions jumped out and began throwing rocks at his house.
Aprahamian said he started his Cadillac and pursued the Saab at high speed until it crashed into a light pole outside a flower shop at Foothill Boulevard and Chevy Chase Drive. Johnston and his passengers fled on foot. Sheriff's deputies who investigated the incident said three juveniles from Altadena were in the car with Johnston. However, they were not charged in the incident.
Aprahamian testified that he struck the Saab's windshield out of frustration while waiting for sheriff's deputies to arrive.
In an interview last spring, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Pargament said he tried to persuade Aprahamian and Johnston to end their feud by getting mutual restraining orders.
The prosecutor said one restraining order was later "served" by someone who attached it to a rock and threw it through a window. Hoping to end the violent dispute, Pargament charged both men with one count of vandalism each.
Although the Saab was demolished in the crash, Pargament said Aprahamian committed vandalism because he broke a windshield that had salvage value.
During the two-day trial, defense attorney Stephen R. Grohs challenged that assertion.
He called Ralph D. Frame, owner of a Glendale auto repair shop, to testify that part of the windshield apparently broke when someone hit it from the inside during the crash before Aprahamian arrived.
Asked if the glass had salvage value before Aprahamian struck it, Frame testified, "To me, it would be absolutely worthless."
Under cross-examination by Deputy Dist. Atty. Kimberly Leong, Frame said he is a neighbor of the Aprahamians and is not a trained accident reconstruction expert.
Leong called Johnston to testify that the windshield of his car was intact even after the collision, but defense attorney Grohs argued that Johnston was not a credible witness.
After they returned with a verdict, several jurors said the most persuasive evidence was a set of photographs showing windshield cracks in two places.
"We felt that as a whole, the damage had been done prior to Mr. Aprahamian striking it with his pool cue," jury foreman Michael T. Tanner of Los Angeles said.
But juror Richard F. Martin, also of Los Angeles, said: "We said he really wasn't justified in hitting the window. Most of us agreed to that."
Although the jurors did not learn the full scope of the Aprahamian-Johnston feud during the trial, Martin said, "I think it had been made clear that something abundantly unpleasant was going on between those two people."