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South Pasadena man pleads guilty to murdering his 5-year-old son after trip to Disneyland

A South Pasadena man accused of killing his 5-year-old son after a trip to Disneyland in April pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder. (August 1, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)

Ana Estevez sat in the front row of an Alhambra courtroom clutching a small white urn that held the remains of her 5-year-old son.

Within moments, the man just a few feet in front of her would plead guilty to the boy's killing.

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This was no stranger. It was the man she had once loved, the father of their child.

Estevez as well as her family and friends wept Tuesday as a prosecutor read aloud the murder charge and mentioned the victim by name: Aramazd Andressian Jr.

Wearing yellow jail scrubs, his father, Aramazd Andressian Sr., pleaded guilty and answered "yes" to questions about whether he understood his rights and the consequences of his decision to change his plea. Andressian was barely audible, prompting Superior Court Judge Cathryn F. Brougham to ask him to speak up.

Before he was escorted from the courtroom, Andressian turned and glanced at his estranged wife and her family. He is scheduled to be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison when he returns to court Aug. 23.

The boy's disappearance in April after leaving Disneyland with his father and two other relatives led to a frantic search that dragged on for more than two months and culminated in the discovery of the child's remains June 30 near Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara County.

Outside the courthouse Tuesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum called the killing "horribly tragic."

"Every murder is a tragedy, but cases like this really, really tug at your heart," he said.

The boy's family did not speak to reporters after the hearing.

Andressian's attorney said his client had not planned the killing and was now taking responsibility for the "awful crime." Andressian had told authorities where to find his son's body, which led to the discovery of the remains, attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez said.

"He is beyond words in regretting having committed such an act," Rodriguez told reporters.

Andressian is accused of planning the killing to get back at his estranged wife during tumultuous divorce proceedings that began in April 2016.

In court records, Andressian alleged that Estevez spanked their son, used profanity and talked of taking their son to Cuba. He said he was concerned that Estevez's father practiced the religion of Santeria and once sacrificed a rooster in front of the child.

In 2016, Andressian made allegations that the child had been sexually abused by "Omar" the son of Estevez's new boyfriend, "TJ," according to the court documents. Estevez told police at the time that she did not have a boyfriend, and that her child never complained of abuse. After a social worker questioned the child about the allegations, the child admitted to not telling the truth and said his father told him to lie, according to the court records.

Estevez, an elementary school principal, accused her husband of falsely saying he was a stay-at-home dad who was their son's primary caregiver, the records show. She said her mother and father took care of Aramazd Jr. when she was at work, she said.

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She alleged her husband had a gambling problem and was addicted to prescription drugs, according to the court documents. She said he told her that if anything were to happen between them, he would take the child to Iran or Armenia.

Aramazd Andressian Sr. defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez talks about his client pleading guilty to murder of his son Aramazd Andressian Jr. (Video by Al Seib/ Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County judge ordered Estevez to pay her husband spousal and child support because he wasn’t working. Both parents were awarded joint custody of their son.

The boy was last seen alive about 1 a.m. April 21 as he was leaving Disneyland with his father, aunt and grandmother. Estevez reported him missing the next day after Andressian failed to show up at a planned custody exchange.

Andressian was found unconscious in a South Pasadena park with his gray BMW doused with gasoline, and he said he didn’t know what happened to his son. Authorities said he had tried to kill himself by taking prescription pills that were not his.

Andressian initially was detained, then released because of a lack of evidence. He told Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives that he had gone with his son to Cachuma Lake Recreation Area in Santa Barbara County.

As the search for her son continued, Estevez filed paperwork asking the divorce court to end the child and spousal support payments. Her husband, she declared, had "lost our son while our son was in his custody."

She said she had provided "hard evidence showing" Andressian's character, "yet my evidence was ignored," she wrote. At the same time, she said, her husband's statements "with no supporting documents was believed and relied upon by this court."

The detectives found evidence that Andressian was at the lake on the day the boy went missing, but there were no sightings of his son. Authorities suspect the child had been killed shortly after leaving Disneyland, before the father went to the lake.

Andressian was arrested June 23 in Las Vegas, where he had stayed on and off since his son's disappearance. Investigators said that he had lightened his hair, shaved his beard and appeared to be making plans to travel to a country where he could avoid extradition.

Authorities discovered the child's remains the same day that Andressian was flown back to California. Detectives have not released a cause of death.

Last month, hundreds attended a memorial service in South Pasadena for the boy, who was affectionately known as "Piqui." In her eulogy, Estevez read a letter to her son, telling him she was living under an "eternal shadow of devastation and emptiness" without him by her side.

"There is no denying you were an extraordinary boy," she said.

For more crime news, follow @nicolesantacruz on Twitter.

UPDATES:

8:25 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the divorce case.

12:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Hum and Andressian's attorney.

10:35 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the court hearing.

This article was originally published at 10:05 a.m.

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