Case of Iranian on death row raises reasonable doubt about U.S. justice -- part 3 of a 4-part series
By Bill Conroy
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Aug 7, 2006, 01:16
we are to consider that Ashkan Panah did not sexually assault and brutally
murder Nicole Parker, then another equally, or more, plausible theory of the
crime must come to light.
alternative theory must be based on opportunity. Who else would have had the
opportunity to abduct, assault and kill the victim?
why the time of the victim�s disappearance is a crucial fact.
to the prosecution's version of events, Ashkan Panah carried out the assault
and murder sometime on Saturday between 11:40 a.m.
and noon (when the victim's father knocked on his door); possibly as late as
1:15 p.m., which is when the cops
showed up at the apartment complex; and at the very latest before 3 p.m., when he is known to have reported
line of reasoning assumes that Ashkan Panah did not kidnap the victim, kill her
elsewhere and then bring the body back to his apartment later, knowing full
well the police were looking for the victim. (In fact, Ashkan Panah was charged
with kidnapping but was acquitted of those charges by the court.)
event, Ashkan Panah would have likely disposed of the body of the victim
elsewhere if he had managed to remove her from the apartment complex.
might there be another explanation of how the body wound up in Ashkan Panah�s
are some facts to consider on that front.
the new evidence released to Ashkan Panah�s attorney by the prosecution since
his conviction is an LAPD broadcast message alerting officers to the fact that
there was a �missing juvenile� who was �LAST SEEN WEARING WHT T SHIRT, BLU
PNTS, BLK SHOES, CARRYING A BASEBALL GLOVE AND A SOFTBALL.�
message was broadcast on Saturday, Nov. 20, within three hours of the victim�s
father contacting the police. The message indicates that the last time the
�missing juvenile� was seen was �1115 hours� -- or 11:15 a.m., at least 25 minutes prior to the
time the prosecution argues the victim disappeared.
key because at about the same time, according to an eyewitness, the victim was
seen talking to a stranger near Ashkan Panah�s apartment. That stranger was an
individual named Ahmad Seihoon.
a stranger to Nicole, the victim, Seihoon, also an Iranian citizen, was no
stranger to Ashkan Panah or his mother.
had been living in the apartment with Ashkan Panah and Mehri Monfared for some
three weeks prior to the murder. He had only recently moved to the United
States from Germany and was an acquaintance of a member of Monfared�s family.
result, according to Monfared, in the spirit of helping out a fellow member of
the Persian community, she allowed Seihoon to stay with her and her son
temporarily until he found a place to live in Los Angeles.
about 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, Nov.
20, 1993, Seihoon was returning to the apartment, his temporary home, to
retrieve his keys, which he had mistakenly left in the apartment door lock,
according to a police statement obtained by Ashkan Panah�s attorney after his
client�s conviction. In addition, that statement, based on a police interview
of Seihoon, indicates that when he encountered the victim, he was carrying a
the police report:
[Seihoon] stated that he left
the loc at approx 1100 hours [11:00 a.m.],
carrying a suitcase and a bag. He was hurrying as the woman was already outside
waiting for him in a [vehicle]. He suddenly realized he left his keys in the
front door lock. He set the suitcase down in the courtyard and hurried back
towards the door of #122 [Ashkan Panah�s apartment unit]. Her [the victim�s]
brother was playing with a remote control car. As he approached the door, the
vict. asked him if he lived there. [Seihoon] replied no. She then asked if he
was �Hooman�s� father, and he again replied no. He added that the girl had a
blank/staring type of look as she spoke to him. It was his impression that the
girl could easily have become lost.
the police broadcast is indeed the accurate measure of the time of the victim�s
disappearance (11:15 a.m.), then
Seihoon would have been the last person (besides the murderer) to see the
claims Seihoon did not leave with her on that day, but drove his vehicle. She
alleges his claim that a woman was waiting in a vehicle for him was an attempt
to deceive the detective who took his statement into believing he had an alibi.
police report clearly establishes that Seihoon would have had the opportunity
to commit the crime and to put the victim�s body in Ashkan Panah�s closet.
had keys to Ashkan Panah�s apartment and was the last person to be seen with
the victim while she was still alive, and he admits to carrying a suitcase at
the time, based on the facts contained in his statement to the police.
means it is possible that Seihoon could have abducted the victim sometime after
his encounter with her, and took her somewhere else, where the sexual assault
and murder were carried out. Then, at some point later, he could have brought
the victim�s body back to the apartment in a suitcase and stashed it in Ashkan
Panah�s closet -- sometime after 3 p.m.
on Saturday, Nov. 20, 1993, when neither Ashkan Panah or his mother were at
home. (Ashkan Panah contends he did not return to the apartment at all on
Saturday after leaving for work, and he is known to have been in police custody
by Sunday morning.)
makes this theory even more plausible is the fact that LAPD police entered or
searched Ashkan Panah�s apartment at least four times between Saturday
afternoon and Sunday morning and failed to find the victim�s body. The body was
finally found during the final police entry into the apartment, which occurred
somewhere between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Sunday evening.
we assume Ashkan Panah was crazy enough to take the victim�s body from the
apartment complex only to again return it to his closet at a later time, then
he would have had to deposit the body sometime on Saturday night, because he
was in police custody by Sunday morning. In addition, the police impounded and
searched his vehicle and found no evidence that the victim had been in the car.
important to note is that the police intrusions prior to the final search
Sunday evening included a search of Ashkan Panah�s closet and also involved the
use of police dogs trained to hone in on a dead body.
Petitioner�s [Ashkan Panah�s] apartment and the complex were thoroughly
searched by the dogs, they never detected any odor or trace of the body of the
deceased,� states Ashkan Panah�s attorney in the habeas pleadings.
you are left with the logical question that is key to the issue of reasonable
doubt. Is it easier to believe that the police failed to find the body after
multiple searches of the apartment (using dogs) between Saturday afternoon and
Sunday morning, and only found it Sunday evening on the final search?
it more plausible to believe that the body was not in the apartment until
sometime after the next-to-last search Sunday morning and that final search on
weight to this latter theory is the fact that Ashkan Panah�s attorney, in the
wake of his conviction, also dug up a prosecution forensic report that puts the
victim�s time of death on Sunday -- when Ashkan Panah was already in police
Ashkan Panah�s habeas pleadings:
The state�s evidence reveals
that there was a question as to the date and time of death. At trial the
prosecution argued that the deceased died in Petitioner�s [Ashkan Panah�s]
apartment on Saturday, November 20, 1993, the same day she disappeared. It is
undisputed that Petitioner left the apartment that day for work at Mervyn�s
Department Store. He never returned to the residence, and was arrested the
following day elsewhere after trying to kill himself. Thus, if the child did
not die that day, Petitioner could not have been responsible.
A prosecution forensic report
reflects that the death occurred on the day after Petitioner left his home,
Sunday, November 21, 1993. That evidence contributes to their being a
reasonable doubt as to his culpability for the homicide. Further, it has been
discovered that rigor mortis was �fully set� when the deceased was discovered
Sunday night. It is thus logical to assume that death occurred that same day,
rather than on Saturday as contended by the prosecution, again raising a
reasonable doubt issue.
mild temperatures, rigor mortis normally sets in several hours after death, causing
the body to become very rigid. It is normally �fully set� within about 12 hours
and then begins to subside.)
all the new evidence that has surfaced as part of Ashkan Panah�s habeas
pleadings, the body found in his closet (or anyone�s closet) would be a hard
situation to overcome. That might explain why the police fixated on Ashkan
Panah from the start, because without employing hard thinking and thorough
police work, it is the easiest path to pursue.
think of it this way. Let's say you went home tonight and found a body in your
house, or more to the point, that the police found a body in your house. How
would you prove that you did not kill that person?
the position Ashkan Panah finds himself in, and it is a tough one to think through.
Unfortunately, there are no certainties in this case,
other than the fact that one person is already dead, and another has a date
with the executioner. But absent certainty, or at least absent any reasonable
doubt, to allow that second death to occur would only be adding an injustice to
Final, Part 4: The informant
Part 1: The
Part 2: Test
Bill Conroy, an investigative reporter and
correspondent for Narco News, can be contacted at
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