An Armenian immigrant charged with fatally shooting his brother-in-law, then trying to extort insurance money from his sister pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder charges that could send him to the gas chamber.
Harutian Truzian, 40, is accused of shooting his relative out of anger because he was not invited to be a partner the family's candy-making business in Van Nuys.
Following a brief arraignment, Municipal Judge Leland Harris ordered Truzian held without bail and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Oct. 15.
Zaven Baregamian, 42, was killed Feb. 16, 1992, at Chocolate Delight, a tiny candy factory on Saticoy Street that specialized in manufacturing a sweet Armenian delicacy known as bird's milk.
Prosecutors have alleged that Truzian murdered Baregamian for financial gain. If this special-circumstance allegation is proven, Truzian would face either execution in the gas chamber at San Quentin or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Prosecutors have yet to decide if they will seek the death penalty.
Baregamian was killed soon after he refused to make Truzian a partner in the business, police said, by someone who tried to make the slaying look like a robbery.
About eight months later, Manoush Baregamian--the victim's wife and Truzian's sister--received a note demanding money. It contained the same type of bullet that killed Baregamian.
Truzian's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Duffey, said it was premature to comment on the case, "except that my client denies any involvement with the murder or the extortion."
A second man, Serob Vetsikyan, is charged only in the burglary at Chocolate Delight. Vetsikyan, who is free on $10,000 bail, also pleaded not guilty Tuesday.