A convicted pot grower was found guilty on Thursday in the grisly kidnapping, torture and maiming of the owner of a flourishing marijuana collective who was targeted because he and two others thought the victim buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert.
A jury reached its verdict within two hours on Thursday in the case involving Kyle Handley, 38. He faces life in prison. His sentencing hearing is set for March.
The case goes back five years when the Fountain Valley man believed a marijuana dealer, someone he did business with, had stashed cash.
Handley went to Las Vegas with him twice in the spring of 2012 where they stayed in expensive suites and "had a good time," prosecutors said.
It was about that time that Handley and high school friend Hossein Nayeri began plotting to kidnap the man, prosecutors said.
They spied on the man for months using small cameras and GPS trackers that showed the victim making trips to a spot in the Mojave Desert in Kern County, prosecutors said.
Then in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, 2012, the two, along with a third man, Ryan Kevorkian, kidnapped the victim and his roommate from their Newport Beach home, tied them up and drove them to the desert, prosecutors said.
With Handley behind the wheel of a rented van, Nayeri and Kevorkian stomped on the victim, burned him with a torch and shocked him with a Taser, demanding to know where the money was, during the 2 1/2 hour drive to the desert, prosecutors said.
Off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, they cut off the man's genitals and left the woman to die when they didn't find the money, prosecutors said.
But both victims were rescued.
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Prosecutors said Handley and Nayeri were as "thick as thieves" and high school friends who planned the crime together.
"These people were ruthless and they were efficient in the way that they carried out the crime," said Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy.
Defense attorneys argued that the evidence against Handley was circumstantial and that Nayeri had access to his home and his truck.
"You can find his truck guilty of aiding and abetting and you can find his house guilty of aiding and abetting, but unfortunately those aren't named defendants in the case," said Handley's attorney, Robert Weinberg. "It's my client who's being charged."
Nayeri faces the same charges. He has denied any involvement in the crime.
He was awaiting trial in this case when he grabbed headlines in 2016 for a brazen escape that he recorded on contraband cellphone from the Men's Central Jail in Santa Ana.
Kevorkian's next court date is set for later this month. His attorney declined to comment.