Calling him a vicious murderer, a judge Monday sentenced 16-year-old Michael Hrayr Demirdjian to a lifetime behind bars for bludgeoning two teenage boys on a La Crescenta playground.
“Sir, you’ve committed a crime like a man, and now you’ll be treated and punished as a man,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen said. Demirdjian received two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole for killing Christopher McCulloch, 13, and Blaine Talmo Jr., 14.
Demirdjian quietly told the judge he didn’t kill the boys, whose bloody and battered bodies were found July 23, 2000, at Valley View Elementary School.
But relatives and friends of the victims said they didn’t believe him.
Blaine Talmo’s father criticized Demirdjian for “not showing any remorse, no emotions [and] the constant lying.”
Holding up a large photo of McCulloch, his mother, Aileen Bristow, said: “Today, tomorrow and the rest of my life will not include my son. . . . As the shock wears off and reality sets in, the pain only increases.”
Others in the courtroom wept as she spoke. Bristow added that she hoped Demirdjian would ask God for forgiveness.
Demirdjian was found guilty of first-degree murder in November after a retrial. Although prosecutors announced on the day of his conviction that more teenage suspects would be arrested, they refused to discuss the prospect Monday.
“What about them?” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Barshop, when asked about the youths he and Deputy Dist. Atty. Truc Do repeatedly had named as suspects in the case and whose photos they displayed to jurors during both trials.
“If one day the police bring us a case, we’ll evaluate it,” Barshop said. “That’s how it works.”
Glendale police said they are still investigating the slayings.
“We have been working closely with the D.A.'s office on this case from the very beginning,” said Sgt. Ian Grimes, supervisor of the investigation.
Prosecutors argued during both trials that the boys’ deaths resulted from a botched drug deal. Demirdjian and another teenager, Damian Kim, tried to buy $660 worth of marijuana from a dealer named Adam Walker, who took their money without producing the drugs, prosecutors said. Testimony revealed that in the week before the killings, Demirdjian, Kim and others set traps to lure Walker out of hiding to get their money back.
Talmo, who had introduced Demirdjian to Walker for the drug deal, was killed during another attempt by Demirdjian, Kim and their associates to ambush Walker, prosecutors argued. McCulloch was a friend who happened to be with Talmo that night.
There was ample evidence of Demirdjian’s guilt, Barshop said. A police bloodhound tracked a scent from the crime scene to Demirdjian’s house. Inside, officers found Talmo’s wallet in Demirdjian’s kitchen trash and on a wall, dried smears of blood containing McCulloch’s DNA.
To prove a conspiracy between Demirdjian and Kim, prosecutors presented phone records showing numerous calls between the teenagers before the killings. Barshop and Do also presented evidence that a police dog detected the scents of Demirdjian and Kim on a rock that had been used as a weapon, and the scent of Kim’s friend, Joseph Song, on the bench used to crush McCulloch’s chest. The same dog did not detect Walker’s scent at the crime scene, according to testimony.
Kim, Song and two others were arrested shortly after the murders, but were released when prosecutors found insufficient evidence to press charges. In an earlier interview with The Times, Kim said he and his friends had nothing to do with the murders.
Demirdjian’s attorney, Charles T. Mathews, said his client saw Walker commit the murders. Prosecutors and police, who had arrested Walker based on Demirdjian’s earlier statements, say they no longer consider Walker a suspect.
Demirdjian’s first trial in Pasadena ended with a deadlocked jury. The San Fernando jury convicted him of first-degree murder but acquitted him of robbery, which prosecutors had contended was a motive for the crime because the victims’ pockets had been turned inside out.
The divided verdict showed that the prosecution did not fully prove its theory, Mathews said.
“The prosecutor says three or more were involved in the killing,” Mathews said. “I don’t think this boy got a fair trial.”
Outside the courtroom, Gary and Sossi Demirdjian said they continue to love and support their only child, whom they adopted as a baby, and believe in his innocence.
“Our son is a scapegoat, blamed for the death of his two friends,” Sossi Demirdjian said. “He’s not the monster that’s been described in the courtroom.”