PASADENA–A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the jury in the Hampig Sassounian trial improperly considered evidence–which at the time of the trial resulted in a life sentence without the opportunity of parole.
Thursday’s ruling reversed the finding and now allows a parole possibility for Sassounian–who has been in prison since January 1981.
"The jury is to make its decision based on evidence in the courtroom. The decision was influenced by material that was not presented in the courtroom," said Charles M. Sevilla–Sassounian defense attorney.
At the time of the trial–the presiding judge refused to allow testimony from a United Press International reporter–who claimed the Justice Commandos for the Armenian Genocide–in a phone call to UPI–took responsibility for the assassination.
During jury deliberations about the special circumstance–one juror cited the phone call to the UPI reporter.
"The jury foreman remembered that someone had mentioned the phone call after the jury had asked the question about being unable to agree on a special circumstance," Thursday’s court opinion reflected.
"There is no doubt the jury received improper evidence," continued the ruling.
The judges held that Sassounian was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a verdict by impartial and indifferent jurors.
Sevilla explained that the Circuit Court reversed the sentencing enhancement finding that the killing was based on national origin–thus allowing a possibility for a parole application for Sassounian.
Thursday’s decision is pending action by the State Attorney General’s office–which has not yet indicated whether it would file for a retrial on the special circumstance ruling.
"I’m very pleased that we won some relief for Hampig. His case has been on appeals for over 16 years. It’s about time that we obtain the relief on this issue–because it was a very compelling argument that we had made throughout the litigation," Sevilla told Asbarez Friday.
In a phone call with Sassounian Defense Committee member Hasmig Derderian Friday–Sassounian said he was very pleased with Thursday’s ruling.
Sassounian also thanked the Armenian-American community for its continued support and encouragement throughout his years of incarceration.
"We are very excited that this case is moving forward," Derderian said–adding that we will also need the support of the community to continue the fight for justice for Hampig Sassounian.
Sassounian was convicted of the 1981 assassination of Turkish Consul General to Los Angeles Kemal Arikan and was sentenced to a life term without the possibility of parole.
Thursday’s ruling–brings new hope for the Sassounian case–which has been in appeals for almost two decades.