Sooren Maronian is living in anger and fear.
On May 1, his wife, Lucie, was stabbed to death in their Altadena home. Two days later, Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives arrested four local teen-agers in connection with the crime.
But now authorities have released the youths, saying they don't have enough evidence to make murder charges stick even though they still consider the young men to be the prime suspects.
"An innocent person has been murdered; has been butchered, and the youngsters are free," Maronian said. "What happened to our system?"
Under the circumstances, Maronian fears for the safety of his family, now staying with relatives in Pasadena.
Sheriff's detectives alleged that on the day of Lucie Maronian's death, the suspects--O'Dell Whitley, 18, and three juveniles, whose names were not released--had attempted to rob Maronian's 14-year-old son, Raffi, and a friend near the Maronian house on East New York Street.
With the suspects in pursuit, Raffi fled and sought refuge in his back yard. While the boy was hiding, the detectives' scenario suggested, the suspects broke into the house and killed his 52-year-old mother.
The relatively rapid apprehension of suspects was a small comfort to Maronian, the victim's husband of 24 years. But several days later, the grieving widower was devastated when he learned that the youths were back on the street.
Based on witness descriptions and other evidence, authorities say, the teens remain the prime suspects in the brutal, apparently unprovoked, killing. But prosecutors say they still need more proof before they can file murder charges.
"I can't ethically file a case unless the evidence can persuade 12 people, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is guilty," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Murphy, who reviewed the evidence against Whitley.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Marlene Sanchez, who reviewed the case against the juveniles, said authorities now are awaiting the results of DNA testing on some blood-stained clothing seized from the suspects. The results, which may take more than a month, could provide key evidence.
"We would love to file something but at this point our hands are tied," Sanchez said. "We just didn't have the evidence. It was really heartbreaking."
The four suspects, all of Altadena, were charged instead with commercial burglary for allegedly looting an Arcadia sporting goods store the day of the killing, when rioting and looting was erupting throughout the Los Angeles area in the wake of the verdicts in the Rodney G. King case.
Authorities said there was no evidence that the slaying was directly related to the civil unrest.
Whitley and one of the juveniles also were charged with attempted robbery for allegedly trying to steal a beeper device belonging to Raffi Maronian's friend.
Whitley posted $15,000 bail on Monday, and Pasadena Superior Court Commissioner Karen Nudell released the three juveniles to their parents the week before "over our strong objections," Sanchez said. Authorities said they are keeping track of the juveniles with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles.
Deputy Public Defender Jill Thomas, who represents Whitley, could not be reached for comment.
"Why should it take this long?" a disappointed Maronian asked. "Why should they drag their feet? I don't want some innocent child to be punished. But I think there is enough evidence to have these people behind bars."
Maronian described his wife as a devoted mother who dedicated years to caring for their now 18-year-old daughter, their son and her elderly, ailing mother, who died last year. Afterward, Lucie Maronian began working for the Pasadena Unified School District, coordinating a program for refugee mothers, her husband said.
Maronian said his wife was a devout Christian "who wouldn't even step on a snail." He said he now fears that the youths will come after his son, a witness against them. Because of his concern, Maronian said he is keeping the boy out of school and the family is staying with a relative in Pasadena.
"The youngsters are free and my son is in jail," Maronian said. "He cannot go out on the sidewalk because his father says, 'Stay here."'
"What happened to our system? What's right has to be done. And soon."