Jury poised to deliberate murder-for-hire case after defense blames son for woman's death
The first-degree murder trial of a Baton Rouge businessman is entering its final stages, with lawyers presenting closing arguments to jurors in the murder-for-hire case.
Hamid Ghassemi, 72, is accused of hiring three men to kill his ex-wife so he wouldn't have to pay her $1 million after their divorce. State prosecutors rested Tuesday morning and defense lawyer Bob Neal opted against calling any witnesses, saying the district attorney's office didn't prove its case. He suggested that Ghassemi's son killed his mother.
Hamed Ghassemi, 45, had lived with his mother for about 10 years as a grown man and told jurors last week that his mother had wanted him to live in "a strict Iranian way." Neal said Hamed Ghassemi "had more than a million motives" to kill his mother, since he would have inherited her money.
The night before Teherah Ghassemi died, her son had sent her a text in Farsi that Neal translated to "Leave me alone you f------ b----." Prosecutors said the correct translation was, "Leave me the f--- alone. I'm moving."
Neal also attacked the credibility of the state's main witness, hitman Daniel Richter. He called Richter a convicted rapist and con man who snitched to win favorable treatment. He also noted that Richter dug only one grave but said Hamid Ghassemi had said he wanted his ex-wife and his son killed.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: Below is our story from Monday.
BATON ROUGE - A man who pleaded guilty to his role in a 2015 murder-for-hire plot testified in a Baton Rouge courtroom Monday, laying out a timeline for jurors that ended with the death of a businessman’s ex-wife.
Hamid Ghassemi is accused of paying $10,000 to have three men kill Teherah Ghassemi, whose body was found in a shallow grave in St. Helena Parish in 2015.
Daniel Richter, 41, admitted lining up two others to abduct and kill the woman, and told jurors that Hamid Ghassemi had long shown contempt toward his wife. In early 2015, he spoke to him about killing her and their son Hamed, Richter said.
“Hamid asked me if I could help with a situation with his wife,” Richter said.
He was escorted into the 19th Judicial District Court without jurors present, presumably so the panel members wouldn’t see him in shackles and hear his leg irons jangle as he shuffled across the floor.
Hamed Ghassemi, the couple's son, was not killed and testified against his father last week.
Teherah Ghassemi, 54, was killed in April 2015, with the timing selected because she was soon to leave for a trip to her native Iran, Richter said. Hamid Ghassemi had been ordered to pay his ex-wife $1 million and, Richter said, Ghassemi feared that if the woman left the country with the money he would never see it again.
He said he met twice with Ghassemi the day of the woman's death and that at no time did Ghassemi ask to back out of the plot.
Richter also told jurors about how he and two others involved met through the day, cased Ms. Ghassemi’s home and traveled to St. Helena Parish to dig a shallow grave before her abduction and death. Later, at her home, the men injected her with insulin, which sent her into seizures.
At the grave site, Richter said he could hear the woman moaning as the men removed her from the trunk of her car while wrapped in a heavy blanket — then co-defendant Tyler Ashpaugh shot her in the head with a .22-caliber revolver. Richter said he went back to the scene the next day to bury the woman's body after the others stopped answering his phone calls.
Richter, Ashpaugh and Skyler Williams pleaded guilty to their roles. Ashpaugh died in prison. Only Richter is currently set to testify, though Williams could be brought in.
Prosecutors have said the elder Ghassemi paid the men $10,000 to kidnap Tahereh Ghassemi and kill her. Richter testified it was his idea to bury her because Ghassemi had asked him to ensure her body would not be found.
Hamid Ghassemi, 72, owned used car lots in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. He faces a life term if convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
Richter pleaded guilty to manslaughter after initially being charged with second-degree murder. He is to be sentenced next week and faces 30 years in prison. Ashpaugh and Williams pleaded guilty to manslaughter as well.
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