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Graphic novelist ordered to pay nearly $42 million in fiancee’s torture murder

Graphic novelist ordered to pay nearly $42 million in fiancee’s torture murder
Blake Leibel confers with attorney Haydeh Takasugi during his sentencing last year for the 2016 torture murder of his fiancée, Iana Kasian. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles judge has ordered a graphic novelist from a wealthy Canadian family to pay $41.6 million to the family of his slain fiancee, whom he brutally tortured and killed in 2016 just weeks after their daughter was born.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Bobbi Tillmon delivered the verdict after a bench trial in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Iana Kasian’s family against Blake Leibel, who carried out the gruesome slaying using a book he worked on years earlier as a blueprint.

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“This murder didn’t just kill one person, it really did kill the family, it shattered the family. And the family has had a hard time crawling back from this,” said Jake Finkel, an attorney representing Kasian’s family.

Leibel, who is imprisoned in Tehachapi, did not attend the trial, Finkel added, nor did an attorney or family member on his behalf.

Leibel, a scion of a powerful Canadian family who once had a fledgling Hollywood career, was convicted last year of first-degree murder, aggravated mayhem and torture, and is now serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Before sheriff’s deputies arrested Leibel at the West Hollywood apartment he shared with Kasian, he had blocked doorways with mattresses and locked himself in a bedroom with Kasian’s mangled body.

Prosecutors told jurors during Leibel’s trial that he had used a sharp object — perhaps the green paring knife or bloodied razor found in the couple’s bathroom — as well as his bare hands to cut and rip pieces of Kasian’s scalp. Most of the blood had been drained from her body. She died of severe blood loss.

Kasian was alive during much of the torture and died “a very slow, excruciating, painful death,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman said, adding that the killing was patterned after “Syndrome,” a graphic novel that Leibel helped create years earlier. Its cover shows a baby doll with a partially removed scalp.

Leibel moved to California in 2004, after which he married, had a son and lived primarily off an allowance from his parents — installments that totaled $1.8 million over about seven years, according to legal documents filed after his mother’s death in 2011.

He also worked on the animated series “Spaceballs,” based on the 1987 film by Mel Brooks, and collaborated with a team of writers and an illustrator to develop “Syndrome.”

In July 2015, court records show, he filed for divorce from his wife and soon after, Kasian was pregnant. She called her mother, Olga, saying her longtime dream of becoming a parent was finally coming true, according to a declaration filed in the family’s lawsuit.

Prosecutors argued at the trial that Leibel was jealous of the attention Kasian gave to their newborn, Diana, when he killed her.

Iana Kasian was killed in 2016.
Iana Kasian was killed in 2016. (Inform Inc.)

Kasian grew up in Ukraine, where she worked for several years as an attorney prosecuting tax crimes. She immigrated to the U.S. in 2014.

Finkel said the payout would help Olga Kasian raise her granddaughter, who turns 3 in May, the way Iana Kasian would have wanted. The pair live in Ukraine.

“The most precious thing to take away from a little girl, from a woman, is her mother. [Diana’s] mother was taken away from her before she even got a real chance to learn about her, get to know her,” Finkel said. “At one point, she’s going to learn about the reality of her mother, and what happened to her, and her biological father and what he did to her mother.”

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