Conflicting accounts emerge in probe of Valley Village shooting

Los Angeles Police Department detectives were struggling with conflicting accounts and an undetermined motive in the killing of four people over the weekend at a Valley Village restaurant.

Law enforcement sources told The Times that detectives were skeptical about some of the accounts given by witnesses at the restaurant and are still not sure whether there was one gunman or two. Detectives also aren’t sure how many people were at the restaurant at the time because some customers apparently fled before police arrived.

The sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition that they not be named because it was an ongoing investigation, said they believe the shooting was tied to Armenian or Eurasian organized crime but are unsure of the motive.

Investigators are hoping that shell casings recovered from the Hot Spot Cafe will provide a clearer account of exactly what happened Saturday afternoon.

Capt. Kevin McClure of the LAPD’s robbery-homicide division, said the large of number of gunshots fired during the attack suggest that more than one gunman was involved, but detectives aren’t sure.

“We are looking for anyone who knows about this shooting to come forward,” he said. A security video from the restaurant, McClure said, “did not provide the identity of the suspect or suspects because it didn’t show the inside” of the cafe.

A spotty description of what happened inside the Middle Eastern restaurant emerged Monday. One or two gunmen entered about 4 p.m. and approached a table where at least six men were dining. They opened fire. Three of the diners were killed almost instantly, and another died at a hospital.

The dead men were identified as Hayk Yegnanyan, 25; Sarkis Karadjian, 26; Harut Baburyan, 28; and Vardan Tofalyan, 31.

Baburyan, of Glendale, had a criminal record, according to court records and interviews.

He was convicted in 2000 of receiving stolen property and sentenced to 18 days in jail and five years’ probation, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Six years later, he pleaded no contest to illegal possession of a semiautomatic weapon and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said Baburyan was one of eight people charged in an auto fraud case in 2007.

He was charged with five counts of auto fraud and convicted in May 2007 of attempted auto fraud and sentenced to six months in prison, prosecutors said.

Two other victims had been investigated by the police, one for petty theft and one for stolen goods. But prosecutors declined to charge them, Robison said.

The restaurant owner told The Times that the victims were part of a group of about 30 to 40 people who reserved the cafe from 1 p.m.

Artour Balian said the victims were sitting quietly, talking among themselves, and didn’t appear disturbed in any way, Balian said.

They were served short ribs, sturgeon, hummus and other traditional Armenian foods.