Jury Acquits Man Accused of Killing Travel Agent

Prosecutors had painted him as a desperate man who killed a Glendale woman for a stack of airline tickets to keep his business alive, but after deliberating for just eight hours, a jury acquitted Garen Zakarian of capital murder Thursday.

As Zakarian's wife, mother and other family members wept and embraced with joy, relatives of Benita Mikailian, the 42-year-old travel agent who was gunned down in her office on the evening of Oct. 5, 1994, were stunned.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sterling Norris called the verdict "absurd." He said he believes jurors may have acted rashly in order to end the trial before the holidays.

Zakarian, 30, was accused of shooting Mikailian in order to steal 80 airline tickets from Paris to Los Angeles, which he needed to avoid stranding a planeload of passengers in Europe.

His sister, Anait, with whom he ran the Econo Trans travel agency in Glendale, was also charged with capital murder in the case, but she was mistakenly released from jail in July and has since vanished. Prosecutors, who said they will try Anait for murder if and when she is caught, said her absence hampered their ability to fully discuss her alleged role in the crime.

Defense attorney Malcolm Guleserian maintained that the evidence--which included three of Zakarian's fingerprints, one found on a silencer used in the shooting--actually implicated a man named Sisak Manukian, who allegedly worked for the Armenian Mafia that was trying to force Zakarian out of the travel business. Guleserian alleged that Manukian, who vanished shortly after the murder, killed Mikailian and then planted evidence linking the crime to the defendant.

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