The defense tried Friday to instill doubt in an Orange County jury about the prosecution’s argument that Hossein Nayeri was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and extortion scheme that left a Newport Beach marijuana dispensary owner tortured, bound and sexually mutilated in the Mojave Desert.
Nayeri, 40, is being tried on charges of kidnapping for ransom, aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary in the 2012 abduction of the man and his female roommate by masked captors. Authorities say the kidnappers intended to steal $1 million that they believed the dispensary owner had buried in the desert.
Nayeri’s attorney, Salvatore Ciulla, zeroed in on discrepancies in the testimony of Nayeri’s ex-wife Cortney Shegerian, like the fact that she claimed the pink Taser allegedly used in the crime was her own, but on the stand could not describe the stun gun in detail.
“She made it up,” Ciulla said. “Why did she have zero details?”
Or the fact that Shegerian previously didn’t describe socks she found in the trash at her home after the kidnapping as bloody, but on the stand did describe them that way.
“If the socks were bloody she would have said it,” said Ciulla, suggesting she had been fed details that would link to other pieces of evidence. “She changed her testimony.”
Cuilla compared Shegerian to the character Amy in the 2014 movie “Gone Girl.”
“She’s really good at deception,” Ciulla said.
Shegerian’s motives also were questioned. “She gets the best lawyer she can get and starts making up stories,” Ciulla said, implying that Shegerian’s cooperation with the investigation was driven completely by a personal interest in securing immunity.
“She only has value to prosecutors if she can nail Nayeri,” Ciulla said.
Prosecutors rebutted that idea by pointing out that Shegerian furnished plenty of details that implicated herself, including things that investigators had no details or evidence of — like the attempted poisoning of a dog — that only made her look bad.
“If he did nothing wrong, she did nothing wrong,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy.
Nayeri’s attorneys also described Shegerian as a liar for telling then-23-year-old Nayeri that she was 18 when she was really 16. Another example of deception, they said, is that she stole money from her parents’ business, which she alleged was to support Nayeri’s lifestyle.
“She’s good at it,” Ciulla said. “You could almost see the wheels turning in her head.”
The defense went on to suggest that the second of two blue latex gloves found in a truck belonging to Fountain Valley resident Kyle Handley — a co-defendant in the case who was found guilty in January 2018 and later sentenced to life in state prison — apparently wasn’t present in initial photos taken by police, implying evidence was manipulated.
Ciulla questioned the handling of the gloves and whether Nayeri’s DNA may have been planted on one of them, saying that only one glove was sent for DNA testing.
“Is there one glove, is there two gloves? Why the mystery? Why the secrecy?” Ciulla said.
Murphy painted it as highly improbable that the Newport Beach Police Department would frame Nayeri as a conspirator in the crimes by planting the glove that was later found to contain his DNA.
Murphy compared what he called Nayeri’s manipulative, “sneaky” and persuasive ability to charm people to traits commonly shared by cult leaders.
“He is either guilty or the worst victim of the most calamitous series of events and the most unlucky man in history,” Murphy said.
Jury instruction is scheduled to begin Monday.