Prosecutor Justifies Sassoounian Retrial As Defense Faults DA for Targeting Community


LOS ANGELES–A scheduled hearing on the retrial of the special circumstance in the Hampig Sassounian case Wednesday was postponed to November 29 for further discovery–as prosecutor Gregory A. Dohi justified the District Attorney’s decision to retry the case as an effort by the office to seek justice.

The courtroom was filled to capacity with Sassounian relatives and supporters–who had gone to the Criminal Courts Building as early as 7 a.m. to ensure access into the small courtroom.

In an interview following the brief hearing–Dohi attempted to assure the Armenian-American community that the motivation of the DA’s office was not to single out the community by pursuing this matter.

"I want to make it very clear that the DA’s office means no disrespect to the Armenian Cause… We respect the Armenian Cause very deeply–however we’re doing simply what Gov. Deukmejian said when this happened 18 years ago–that we should seek the full measure of justice and that’s what we are doing," explained Dohi–who asserted that the Sept. 11th attacks were not the motivating force for the decision to retry Sassounian.

"One thing we can do is make it extremely clear that there is absolutely no link what so ever with what happened on Sept. 11th and anybody in the Armenian community," claimed Dohi.

Defense attorney Geragos said–however–"This prosecution is nothing less than a full frontal assault on the Armenian community," explaining that new material provided to him by the prosecution for discovery "is nothing more than attacks on the ANC–the ARF–the AYF and the Armenian community."

Geragos added–"Everything that’s in this case is nothing more than Turkish propaganda and revisionism and their ability to use this courtroom for political purposes."

He added that the prosecutors "have invoked the names of Deukmejian and [then District Attorney Robert] Philibosian as a cover for bringing this assault against the Armenian community."

The noted defense lawyer argued that–indeed–the District Attorney was motivated by the events of Sept. 11th and thus is mounting a case against the community.

"The first document I got in the discover is a piece of paper with a headline that reads ‘terrorism.’ If this is not linked to Sept. 11–then why does the first document have a banner that says ‘terrorism’?" explained Geragos.

"Why is the first witness [on the list] some bozo who is going to claim that the Armenian groups are nothing but a bunch of fringe groups?" commented Geragos.

Sassounian is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for allegedly murdering then Turkish Consul General to Los Angeles Kemal Arikan in 1982. The special circumstances–which made Sassounian ineligible for parole were linked to the jury’s decision that the crime was racially motivated. Last year–the 9th Federal Circuit Court ruled that the special circumstances may be waved since the jury in the initial trial had entertained matters that were not presented in court during the trial.

Dohi explained that the legislature and voters of the California have mandated that individuals who commit hate crimes should be kept in prison without the possibility of parole.

"We’re saying–if this wasn’t a hate crime–I don’t know what is?" said Dohi. When asked whether he intended to "play the race card" during the course of the trial–he responded "absolutely not."

"We aren’t prosecuting Hampig Sassounian because he’s Armenian," added Dohi.

Geragos told Asbarez that the community should be vocal in its protest to the District Attorney’s office.

"This is unconscionable. The Armenian community should not stand fort this," said Geragos–who urged those Armenian-Americans who had contributed to District Attorney Cooley’s election campaign to call the DA and file complaints–since Cooley himself had announced that he election was largely due to the support of the Armenian-American community.

The Los Angeles Country District Attorney’s office announced on Sept. 28 during a hearing at the Los Angeles County Criminal Court its intentions to retry the special circumstance portion of the Hampig Sassounian case–despite a ruling last year by the federal Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that decision and provide parole eligibility for the defendant.

Mark Geragos–the defense attorney on the case–argued that the office of the District Attorney–headed by Steve Cooley–was not the proper agency to call for a retrial–given that last year’s decision was made by a federal court. He asserted that–if the case is to be tried–it must be done so by the State Attorney General’s office.

To that end–Geragos filed a motion with the court–which was scheduled to be heard Wednesday–but since Geragos’ office had received new material from the prosecution Monday–an extension was granted to Nov. 29.


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