Prosecution makes closing argument in trial of man accused in Newport Beach kidnapping and torture case
Prosecutors asked Orange County jurors Wednesday whether they had been convinced that a man who fled amid a criminal investigation and later escaped from Orange County Jail was the type of person not to be at the forefront of making elaborate plans, such as the kidnapping and extortion plot in which he is accused of participating.
Hossein Nayeri, 40, is being tried on charges of kidnapping for ransom, aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary in the 2012 abduction of a Newport Beach marijuana dispensary owner and his female roommate and the man’s beating, torture and sexual mutilation.
According to authorities, the kidnappers believed the dispensary owner had buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert at a spot where his car had been traced via GPS.
Nayeri, who says he had no involvement in the crimes, returned to the witness stand Wednesday with a more conciliatory tone after his testimony the day before ended in heated exchanges.
Attorneys from both the prosecution and the defense pressed further into Nayeri’s marriage to Cortney Shegerian.
Nayeri’s attorney Salvatore Ciulla gave the defendant an opportunity to elaborate on why he felt the marriage had been wrongfully annulled on grounds that he was already married to a woman in Iran.
Nayeri testified that his divorce in Iran was finalized April 20, 2009, more than a year before he and Shegerian wed on June 25, 2010. Nayeri said he had documentation confirming that.
Nayeri said Shegerian knew about the divorce. On Tuesday, Senior Dist. Deputy Atty. Matt Murphy’s questioning about the matter was cut short when Nayeri grew visibly aggravated and accused Shegerian of lying in court during their annulment proceedings.
Shegerian previously testified that she was “terrified” of her husband, whom she described as “highly intelligent” but also “manipulative.”
Murphy delivered the prosecution’s closing argument Wednesday, questioning whether the defense had made its points outlined in opening statements July 17.
Did Nayeri demonstrate that he had nothing to hide?
Did the defense show evidence that gang members were involved and responsible for the crimes?
And was Nayeri convincing in his claim that though he was involved in conducting surveillance on the dispensary owner, he had no idea what was being planned against him?
Murphy contended that the answer to all those questions is no.
Nayeri was arrested in November 2013 in Prague, Czech Republic, after leaving for Iran soon after detectives began investigating the kidnapping. He escaped from Orange County Jail in 2016, evading authorities for eight days before being captured in San Francisco.
Prosecutors portrayed Nayeri not only as the most cunning of the four defendants charged in the case but also as the only one who connects all the suspects, spanning from Orange County to Fresno and Palmdale.
“Somebody very smart was involved in this,” Murphy said.
Is Ryan [Kevorkian] a smart guy?” Murphy said, referring to Nayeri’s high school friend who prosecutors said impregnated a prisoner while married with two children and working as a correctional officer. He went on to have four children with the woman, prosecutors said.
“I think that qualifies you as being an idiot,” Murphy said.
“[Kyle] Handley didn’t swap the license plate on the truck and forgot to put gas in the van,” Murphy said of the co-defendant who was found guilty in January 2018 of his role in the kidnapping and was later sentenced to life in prison.
“Did those two clowns ever plan anything in their lives?” Murphy said. “Not anything like this.”
Kevorkian and the fourth defendant, Naomi Rhodus (previously Kevorkian), have been charged with six felony counts each and pleaded not guilty in 2014. Kevorkian is due in court Monday and Rhodus on Sept. 6.
The defense in Nayeri’s trial will present its closing argument Friday.
Sclafani writes for Times Community News.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.