Ex-Marine and cracker-bread heiress will stand trial in death of man in Glendale


A judge on Wednesday ordered an heiress and an ex-Marine accused in the choking death of a 31-year-old man in Glendale last year to stand trial on murder charges.

The decision came after a two-day preliminary hearing during which witnesses recounted the chaos that led up to the death of John Michael King-Smith, while the prosecutor and defense attorneys introduced text messages between those present or involved, as well as a video capturing a snippet of the scene.

The case stretches back to one September evening last year, when Sparkle Soojian, 33, came home after a workout, and said she saw a window screen had been sliced open, according to evidence presented in court.

Inside, King-Smith — her former roommate’s ex-boyfriend against whom she had a restraining order — was in a towel after having showered, cutting his hair in the bathroom with a kitchen knife.

“My stalker broke into my house,” she texted to at least two people. “Please come over. I can’t talk on the phone. I’m begging you to come over now. I’m scared.”

A Glendale detective, however, testified that a chair covered in dusty beer bottles sat right under the window, undisturbed, casting doubt on whether King-Smith actually climbed through the window to enter.

Among those who received the text was her friend Ernest Johnson, who testified Tuesday that while on his way to her townhome, he asked what she wanted him to do.

As he pulled up outside her West Windsor Road complex, another text came through.

“I want you to kill him,” she wrote. “I’m serious. We need to get rid of the body.”

Johnson didn’t take Soojian seriously and went inside anyway, where the scene quickly turned chaotic.

About an hour later, King-Smith was dead.

Soojian, along with her then-boyfriend, an ex-Marine named Jared Kasiewicz, 28, were each held to answer Wednesday to one count of murder. A Fresno native, Soojian is the heiress of Ak Mak, an international Armenian cracker-bread company started by her grandparents, according to her website.

When Johnson entered the apartment, King-Smith was banging on Soojian’s bedroom door upstairs, yelling to be let in. Behind the door, Soojian, along with two others, wouldn’t open the door, telling Johnson that she feared King-Smith would barge in, Johnson testified.

Around then, King-Smith verbally confronted Johnson before attacking him with a tennis racket, prompting Johnson to punch him in the face.

Someone subsequently opened the bedroom door, and the group ended up downstairs. During an argument there, King-Smith, who was bleeding from getting punched, spit blood in Soojian’s face.

At 1:19 a.m., Soojian texted Kasiewicz.

“It’s really bad, come in now,” she wrote.

As Johnson told King-Smith to leave, Kasiewicz came through a sliding door “like a ninja,” and tackled King-Smith to the ground, placing him in a choke hold, Johnson testified.

“We need to handle this,” Kasiewicz told Johnson.

That’s when Johnson decided to leave.

“Y’all crazy,” he said on his way out. “I’m out of here.”

Video captured at the scene reportedly shows Kasiewicz on top of King-Smith, choking him, and asking those around him for cords or ropes to tie him up.

“You don’t need to tie up dead people,” Kasiewicz’s attorney Andrew Goldman said Wednesday, arguing that his client was defending a loved one and did not intend to kill King-Smith. The prosecutor, meanwhile, argued that Kasiewicz was “staging a scene.”

Soojian’s attorney Joseph Gutierrez called his client’s text to Johnson a “spontaneous remark taken out of context.” When her friends showed up to help, she did not direct anyone to kill King-Smith, he said.

“It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that resulted in the death of another human being, but it did not add up to murder,” said Soojian’s other attorney Garo Ghazarian.

According to court testimony, after tying King-Smith’s wrists to his feet, Kasiewicz washed the blood off one of his arms and left.

“I wasn’t here,” he told the three others in the room.

Kasiewicz didn’t want to get Soojian in trouble for violating a court order from a pending domestic violence case to stay away from him, Goldman argued.

Soojian and a friend subsequently straightened up the room, cleaning debris, before Soojian called the police at 1:49 a.m. to report the break-in.

She told the dispatcher that her neighbors had tied up King-Smith, and that she didn’t want to get evicted over the incident.

“Does anyone need an ambulance?” the dispatcher asked, according to a recording of the call played in court.

“No, we’re fine,” she replied.

King-Smith was later pronounced dead at a hospital, police said at the time.

Soojian and Kasiewicz are due back in court next month.

King-Smith was remembered by loved ones as a man with a big heart who was involved in fundraisers and food drives for homeless people and pregnant women who had been kicked out of school, frequently spoke to incarcerated youth and headed a nonprofit record label.

For his sister Lauren Shy Smith, sitting through hours of dramatic testimony — feet away from the pair accused in his death — was traumatic, at times bringing her to tears.

“I still don’t know why my brother is dead,” she said.