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People v. Nazeri

August 25, 2010

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
BAHRAM NAZERI, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Richard F. Toohey, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. 06HF1654).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sills, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Bahram Nazeri was contemplating suicide on Tuesday night, August 22, 2006. He was in the company of his two brothers, Yadi and Shawn, at his own home in northern Irvine. One of the brothers decided to call the Irvine Police Department. When officers arrived, Bahram grabbed something from the kitchen and went into the backyard. Bahram told the officers he had a gun. There was a standoff. Bahram surrendered after an hour. He had no gun, but he had cut his wrists and there was blood on his face and hands.

When the police searched the house, they found the bodies of Bahram's wife and mother-in-law in the shower of a locked downstairs bathroom. Two nights before, each had been stabbed more than 20 times.

Bahram admitted he had done the killings. He was subsequently convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The sole issue presented in this appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence to sustain his convictions for first degree murder -- that is, murder that requires deliberation and premeditation -- in regard to both victims. We affirm, because the evidence was susceptible to this reasonable inference: Bahram, believing his wife to be unfaithful, perceiving himself to have been mocked by his mother-in-law, and afraid that both wife and mother-in-law were plotting to kill him, took a beautiful, ornamental knife normally kept in the upstairs bedroom, and went down the stairs with it, specifically intending to kill both women.

II. THE EVIDENCE

A. Manner of Killing

1. Bahram's Account of the Stabbings

This case is rather remarkable in that the defendant Bahram Nazeri took the stand in his own defense and told his own version of the killings of his late wife Nooshin Khaneh and his late mother-in-law, Parvane Ghararyankordestan. We will refer to all three of them by their first names, Bahram, Nooshin and Parvane respectively. (As in family law opinions, no disrespect is intended.) The main point of Bahram's testimony was that he killed in self-defense: "They came to me with the knife and I defend myself."

We will begin, then, with Bahram's own account of the killings, as told on direct examination in his defense:

It was Saturday, August 19, 2006. Bahram and Nooshin were living in their home in Irvine with their two daughters and Nooshin's mother Parvane. Bahram played with his two daughters in the swimming pool that afternoon. Later that afternoon or early evening, Bahram told Nooshin he was going out for a run, but she said, "no, don't go," because she was going out shopping with her mother. He scrubbed the run and complied.

The two didn't come back until after 9 p.m. that evening, after the children's bedtime. Nooshin went upstairs to sleep, Parvane downstairs. Bahram and Nooshin then had, in his words, "wild, wild sex." The couple intended to go to sleep, but soon smelled smoke.

By this time, Parvane had gone to her room. Nooshin said that Parvane was awake and "not sleeping," and told Bahram she would go and talk to her mother. Nooshin went downstairs, wearing a towel. Bahram said, "Okay. I'm going to sleep." Instead, he was "curious," and soon found himself outside of the house listening to the conversation his wife and mother were having inside.

Nooshin told Parvane, "I talked to Farokh today." Then, referring to Bahram, she said: "Mommy, don't worry. Less than two weeks, he will be finished. Less than two weeks."

Bahram brushed into some bushes. Nooshin saw the movement of the bushes and screamed. Bahram then came into house. The next thing, according to his testimony, was that he grabbed Nooshin. And as he grabbed her, the towel came off and she grabbed a knife.

Bahram tried to get the knife from Nooshin's hand. "You want to kill me? You want to kill me?" he claimed. As he tried to get the knife from Nooshin, Parvane intervened and began "hitting [him] from behind."

The next thing Bahram knew, "all over is blood" and he was "between" the two women. The only thing he remembered after that was the thought he needed to "take myself, too."

Cross-examination yielded this exchange as to how, precisely, Nooshin obtained the knife. (Readers should bear in mind that English is Bahram's third language, the first two being Farsi and Kurdish):

"Q: So, as you grab the towel and she's facing away from you, you're still unaware that she has the knife?

"A: She grabbed it the way she run. The way when she run to the kitchen, she -- the knife was on top of the counter. She grabbed the knife. Said, 'Get away from me. Get away from me.'

"Q: Oh, so you saw her grab the knife?

"A: Yeah, she grabbed it. And that's why I catch her. She left the -

"Q: Why did you chase her if she had a knife?

"A: To get it from her to say, 'Why do you want to kill me? Why you planning it?'" (Italics added.)

In short, his story was: When he interrupted the conversation between his wife and her mother, Nooshin ran into the kitchen where the knife was on the counter and grabbed it, he continued to chase her, then disarmed her. The next thing he knew, he had stabbed both her and her mother.

2. The Knife

a. Where?

Where, precisely, was the knife ordinarily kept? Ordinarily, said Bahram, it was ...


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