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California

Man who escaped O.C. jail is convicted of kidnapping pair, mutilation of pot store owner

Hossein Nayeri
Hossein Nayeri looks on in a Newport Beach courtroom Friday, where he was convicted of participating in the abduction and torture of a pot-dispensary owner in October 2012.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Newport Beach man was convicted Friday of participating in the abduction and torture of a pot-dispensary owner in October 2012.

After a monthlong trial, an Orange County Superior Court jury deliberated for four days to convict Hossein Nayeri of kidnapping and torture.

The jury struggled through the week to reach a verdict, with 11 jurors convinced he was guilty and one adamant at first that he was not, according to jury foreperson Beth Burbage.

“There was yelling and screaming and arguing,” Burbage said of the deliberations. “It was intense. A couple times people cried.”

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Burbage said the holdout was a young woman who believed Nayeri’s account but “could never really articulate” her reasoning.

“She believed Hossein’s testimony, not Cortney’s,” Burbage said, referring to the account of Nayeri’s former wife, Cortney Shegerian, one of the key witnesses against him. Shegerian testified that she helped Nayeri conduct surveillance on the pot-dispensary owner and bought hamburger meat with the aim of poisoning the victim’s family dog.

Burbage said that Nayeri’s demeanor on the witness stand reflected “an angry, controlling person.” With the exception of the holdout juror, she said, “we found it was in alignment” with the allegations against him.

Prosecutors say Nayeri hatched a scheme to kidnap the owner of a lucrative Santa Ana pot dispensary in the mistaken belief the victim had buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert.

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On the witness stand, Nayeri admitted that he believed the victim had stashed cash in the desert like “a Scrooge.” Nayeri also admitted that he painstakingly monitored the man for much of 2012.

But he tried to distance himself from the abduction plot, saying the surveillance was at the behest of a co-defendant, pot dealer Kyle Handley, who was paying him $1,000 a week to make sure the dispensary owner didn’t skip town over an alleged debt.

Hossein Nayeri’s attorney tried Friday to instill doubt in the jury about the prosecution’s argument that Nayeri was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and extortion scheme that targeted a Newport Beach marijuana dispensary owner in 2012.

Authorities say Nayeri, Handley and a third man forced the dispensary owner and a female housemate from their home on 25th Street in Newport Beach and into the back of a van that headed into the desert at night.

The attackers burned the dispensary owner with a blowtorch, doused him with bleach and severed his penis. His housemate, dumped in the desert with him, managed to flag down a passing sheriff’s deputy.

A witness spotted Handley’s truck at the abduction scene, and police found Nayeri’s DNA on a glove inside the truck.

While awaiting trial in this case, Nayeri made headlines in 2016 when he escaped from the Orange County Jail and was free for eight days before his recapture.

Hossein Nayeri testified in an Orange County courtroom Tuesday, denying involvement in the kidnapping plot and claiming the Newport Beach Police Department planted evidence.

After Friday’s verdict, prosecutor Matt Murphy said Nayeri was “as maniacal a criminal defendant as anybody I’ve ever seen,” and that it was hard to think of a more horrific crime.

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“Without a murder at the end of it, this is about as bad as it gets,” he said.

Nayeri was convicted of two counts of kidnapping, one each for the pot-dispensary owner and his female housemate.

He was also convicted of one count of torture in connection with the pot-dispensary owner, though the jury found he did not commit the mutilation personally.

The jury deadlocked on a fourth count of mayhem in connection with whether he personally inflicted the mutilation.

The prosecutor said the jury’s findings on those issues will not affect Nayeri’s sentencing by Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett on Oct. 11, where he faces the possibility of life in prison.

Nayeri is also awaiting trial on the escape charges. Six armed bailiffs were present for the reading of the verdict Friday morning, including two guarding the door.


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