A man was convicted Friday in a grisly case of kidnapping and torture that came to light after a deputy's mysterious encounter seven years ago with a frightened woman pleading for help in the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles.
Hossein Nayeri, 40, was found guilty of kidnapping, torture and extortion. He and two high school friends allegedly abducted and mutilated the owner of a flourishing medical marijuana dispensary. The victim's penis was cut of and he was burned with a blow torch as the captors demanded he tell them where he buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert.
The victim survived and testified at trial.
Jurors rejected the charge that Nayeri inflicted great bodily injury on the man, saying essentially he wasn't the one who severed the victim's penis.
"It's difficult to imagine a case more horrific than this one," said Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy outside court. "Without a murder at the end of it this is about as bad as it gets."
The former pot dealer is still facing a possible life sentence without the possibility of parole for his convictions on two counts of kidnapping for ransom and single counts of aggravated mayhem, torture and burglary. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 11.
Nayeri's attorney Salvatore Ciulla argued that two other men who Nayeri went to high school with, Kyle Handley and Ryan Kevorkian, orchestrated the kidnapping.
"This case nothing is as it seems," he said. "This man right here, Hossein Nayeri, did not do it."
Handley was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his part in the case. Kevorkian is awaiting trial.
The case goes back nearly seven years.
Three masked men armed with a shotgun beat the victim while he slept in his Newport Beach home on Oct. 2, 2012, prosecutors said. His roommate was also kidnapped at gunpoint. She was not hurt.
The victim's name was being withheld because he's a victim of a sex crime.
He was beaten so bad that he defecated in his pants, prosecutors said.
"Then they dragged him down the stairs, hitting his head on each step, thunk, thunk, thunk," Senior Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told jurors.
They continued beating him in the back of a van, hitting him with a rubber hose, burning him with a torch and shocking him with a Taser, while driving to the Mojave Desert.
Along the way, they demanded to know where the money was, which he denied having, Brown said. He even offered tens of thousands of dollars in cash from his business, but it wasn't enough, Brown said.
When they stopped in the Mojave Desert, they dragged him out of the van, poured bleach on him to kill any DNA evidence, cut off his penis and left him for dead, Brown said.
The victim's roommate managed to free herself from the zip ties around her ankles and flagged down a deputy who happened to see her on the side of a road while he was on his way to work.
After the crime, Nayeri fled to his home country of Iran, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, Brown said.
Authorities were able to lure him out of the country using Nayeri's ex-wife Cortney Shegerian, who got him to leave Iran to visit her and his sister in Spain.
Shegerian, who authorities alleged was involved in helping Nayeri plan the kidnapping, has agreed to testify in exhange for immunity from prosecution, prosecutors said.
Nayeri was arrested as he got off a plane in the Czech Republic on a layover to Spain and eventually was extradited to Orange County.
While awaiting trial in this case in 2016, Nayeri grabbed headlines when he broke out of an Orange County jail and recorded it on contraband cellphone that his lawyer provided to NBC4.
Nayeri was captured in San Francisco and again returned to Orange County custody.
In a jailhouse interview, Nayeri denied the kidnapping and torture charges and told NBC4 his innocence will be proven in court.