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Jury receives arson case

February 08, 2006|By By Tania Chatila

Antranik Khajarian's attorney argues for manslaughter in murder trial.PASADENA -- Jurors will begin deliberating today in the trial against a Glendale man accused of setting fire to his grandmother's room and killing her last March.

Antranik Khajarian, 38, faces one count of murder with special circumstances of arson, one count of arson causing great bodily injury, one count of arson to an inhabited structure and one count of possession of flammable material, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Khajarian allegedly doused his 94-year-old grandmother's room with gasoline March 1 and then set it on fire.

Arpine Demerjian died of smoke inhalation and burns.

Khajarian's parents were also asleep in the family's Wonderview Drive home when the early-morning blaze started, but were able to escape uninjured.


Khajarian fled during the fire, but was detained on March 2 by Border Patrol agents while trying to return to the United States from Mexico, authorities said.

Defense attorney Edward Rucker argued Tuesday in his closing arguments that while Khajarian did pour gasoline on the floor of his grandmother's room, he did not trail cloth bedding material doused with gasoline from near a portable space heater on the floor to Demerjian's bed, as the prosecution theorized.

"What evidence supports that theory?" Rucker asked, adding that lab work found no traces of gasoline on Demerjian's bed and that cloth debris was not found on the floor after the fire.

The fire was accidental, Rucker said, and Khajarian never intended for or realized that the heater on the floor would cause the gasoline to ignite.

Rucker argued that Khajarian had no prior history of violence and he questioned his client's mental state.

"Did he have such tunnel vision that he decides, 'I'm going to pour gas and I'm going to be the big hero and discover it in the morning' and God knows what?" Rucker said.

Khajarian went jogging in his normal clothes in the rain, lost his car, took furniture from the family home and put it on the street and would sometimes burst out laughing for no reason, Rucker said.

And he was seeing a psychiatrist in Syria who put him on anti-psychotic drugs, he said.

"Is he the same as us?" Rucker asked. "Is he a rational person?"

Khajarian did not intend to hurt Demerjian and did not have the mental capacity to meticulously plan the murder, he said.

"He is not guilty of first degree murder," he said. "We've got a manslaughter."

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Jean Daly argued that Khajarian did commit arson and was trying to rectify problems he had with his brother by setting the fire.

"He has the capacity to know what he was doing," Daly said. "He had the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong."

And there was evidence that bedding material fueled the fire, Daly said.

Glendale Fire Investigator Michael Richardson testified last week that the fire traveled low and progressed rapidly toward the bed and the victim. If there were no trail to move the fire along, the fire would have traveled underneath the bed, he said.

This would have caused severe damage to Demerjian's backside, he said. But it was the front of Demerjian's body that suffered the most charring, Daly said.

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