Four are convicted in North Hollywood text-message killing
Two men were convicted Friday of killing a teenager in a North Hollywood parking lot over an insulting text message three years ago.
Zareh Manjikian and Vahagn Jurian, both 25, were found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit assault for their role in the 2009 shooting death of 19-year-old Gombert “Mike” Yepremyan.
The killing garnered widespread media attention, as did the subsequent hunt for Jurian and Manjikian, who both fled. They were arrested separately in 2011.
Yepremyan was gunned down in a parking lot one November night just hours after he sent a text message calling Jurian’s cousin a “bitch.”
The target of that insult, Khatun Vardanian, 23, was also convicted Friday of conspiracy to commit assault, along with a fourth defendant, her brother Hovik Dzhuryan, 20.
During a dramatic trial, prosecutors alleged that the four plotted to kill Yepremyan after he sent the text message to his girlfriend, who was with Vardanian at the time.
Authorities say Vardanian saw the message and then called her brother and asked him to have Yepremyan beaten up.
According to Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Nison, Vardanian’s brother then contacted his cousin, Jurian, who in turn summoned Manjikian “to handle the situation.”
Yepremyan reportedly began receiving phone calls from a stranger who asked to meet him at a Sears parking lot in North Hollywood. When he arrived, accompanied by several friends, he encountered Manjikian and Jurian.
Authorities said Jurian struck Yepremyan before Manjikian pulled out a gun and shot him in the head.
Manjikian had been drinking, and the alcohol had given him “liquid courage,” the prosecutor said.
He told jurors that the defendants knew from the start that the meeting they’d arranged with Yepremyan would end badly.
Michael Levin, a defense attorney for Manjikian, argued that the killing was a “dreadful accident,” the product of a “an excessive amount of testosterone on both sides of the aisle.”
Levin said none of the witnesses had seen Manjikian with a gun and said the firearm used in the shooting actually belonged to a friend of Yepremyan.
The jury debated the case for two days before delivering its verdict. A sentencing hearing will be held Aug. 29.
Manjikian faces 50 years to life in prison, Jurian 26 years to life and the other two defendants face five-year sentences.
In his closing arguments this week, the prosecutor told the jury that although Vardanian’s reaction to being called a derogatory name wasn’t unreasonable, the actions of her associates were.
“This stuff happens all the time,” Nison said. “No one gets killed. But the defendants took it to another level.”