Michael Demirdjian’s sentence of 50-years-to-life in prison was left standing by the California Supreme Court in a decision handed down late last month. Demirdjian was convicted for the July 2000 murder of two local teens in a La Crescenta school yard, Blaine Steven Talmo Jr., 14; and Christopher McCollock, 13, of La Cañada. The court voted 6-0 to deny Demirdjian’s petition for review. In October 2006 a similar appeal was upheld in the Court of Appeal, rejecting claims by Demirdjian’s attorney that the sentence represented cruel and unusual punishment due to his client’s age, 15, at the time murders were committed. He continued his argument that Demirdjian was at the scene of the crime but was merely a witness. He claims the murders were instead committed by a drug dealer intent on robbing the teens.
In January’s opinion, Presiding Justice Norman Epstein, stated that the “circumstances in this case are particularly horrendous.” He stated that both boys were brutally murdered, their bodies left on the grounds of Valley View Elementary School.
Demirdjian’s first trial ended in a hung jury; the second found him guilty of both murders with special circumstances of multiple murder and murder by torture. His original sentence by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen was to serve two life terms without the possibility of parole, however California law prohibits imposing a life without parole sentence on a defendant under 16 years of age at the time of the crime. Coen then imposed the mandatory sentences of 25 years to life to be served consecutively.
Demirdjian’s attorney argued the sentence is excessive punishment based on the fact that his client was a juvenile when the murders were committed. In his opinion, Judge Epstein took into consideration discussions from the United States Supreme Court decisions that have dealt with this matter. “Certainly, the viciousness and circumstances of the crime must be considered in any assessment of punishment,” Epstein wrote.
His opinion continued by addressing the earlier sentence of two terms of life without possibility of parole.
“We stated the murders were savage and apparently unprovoked, and the evidence supports an inference that Demirdjian’s premeditated the manner of killing. He then attempted to dispose of the evidence and denied wrongdoing when questioned. Finally, his youth or lack of prior conviction does not make the punishment grossly inappropriate. Demirdjian was shown to be dealing in narcotics sales, had firearms in his possession and it was not established that he was an unusually immature or naïve youth.”
Epstein concluded that the sentence of two consecutive 25 years to life term, with possibility of parole is a valid.