Case of Iranian on death row raises reasonable doubt about U.S. justice -- part 4 of a 4-part series
By Bill Conroy
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 8, 2006, 00:53

The informant

I got hooked into this story by yet another twist in this mystery.

In 2000, I wrote a series of stories involving an Iranian family in San Antonio who claimed the FBI had framed them for insurance fraud.

The same year Ashkan Panah was sentenced to death in California, 1995, federal agents raided the Iranian family�s business.

In the course of their federal trial, it was revealed that an FBI informant had been brought in from California to help set up a sting on the family�s business.

However, the sting failed, in part because the informant was secretly recorded and the tapes of those conversations, in which he admits that he is an FBI informant, were leaked to the Iranian family. Transcripts of those recordings later became part of the public court record in the criminal case.

Ashkan Panah�s attorneys and his mother became aware of those transcripts after I contacted them to follow up on some shocking comments the informant made while he was being recorded. I didn�t hear anything more about the matter for years -- that is until several weeks ago, when Ashkan Panah�s mother contacted me to inform me that a key claim made by the informant in the recordings had turned out to be proven true.

During one of the FBI informant's two recorded conversations, which occurred sometime in 1994 or early 1995, he claims the following in relation to the Ashkan Panah case:

Informant: " . . . That Iranian boy, 19 years old, who killed that four-years-old girl, truly he didn't kill her. She was found in his closet, or suitcase, dead . . . (she was) six years old or four years old. Then he was charged with rape and murder, O.K. But, truly he didn't do that . . . but, to the present time, the court has proved that he has done it and they gave him life in prison and now they trying to execute him. . . ."

(Later in the tape)

Informant: "They did the autopsy . . . but, they didn't find any of his sperm on her body. . . . You see, his house was searched three times before they found her body . . . three time his house was searched . . . the fourth time they searched and found the body. You see, he was arrested 12 hours after the murder of the girl. . . ."


Although some of his details are off, the informant was right on the money concerning the DNA evidence. This informant, who also is Iranian, was employed by the FBI and insurance industry to help work stings against suspected insurance scammers around the country. Also, according to court records, he resided in the Los Angeles area around the time of the Ashkan Panah case. So it can't be ruled out that he had access to inside information from law enforcement sources who might have been aware of the prosecution�s dilemma when they discovered, prior to the trial, that the DNA evidence did not support their case against Ashkan Panah.

But then, like the rest of this deadly tragedy, nothing can be assumed to be as it appears -- at least on the surface.

This reporter talked with Ashkan Panah by telephone from death row a number of times for this story.

During the last conversation, he was coughing badly. He said the guards were �practicing with pepper spray.� A day later, his mother contacted this reporter and said her son had been taken to the emergency room with breathing problems.

This reporter also contacted the California Attorney General�s Office, seeking comment on the state�s position on Ashkan Panah�s death sentence in light of the new evidence that has emerged. No one from that office has yet responded.

Finally, this reporter attempted to confirm the whereabouts of Ahmad Seihoon. A public records search shows that he was reported deceased on April 19, 1995.

Ashkan Panah's mother claims Seihoon was murdered; shot three times in front of a restaurant he owned in the Los Angeles area.

She adds that her son was shipped off to death row at San Quentin State Prison in California on March 20, 1995 -- the Persian New Year.

The evidence

California Supreme Court ruling in the automatic appeal

Decision and Order removing Judge Couwenberg from office

Forensic Analytical DNA report - Calandro

Forensic Analytical DNA report - Petersen Inman

Dr. Michael Baden's statement on victim's death

Los Angeles Police Department note related to withholding documents from the defense

LAPD area broadcast reporting missing juvenile

Part 1: The Crime

Part 2: Test the Theory

Part 3: Alternative Theory

Bill Conroy, an investigative reporter and correspondent for Narco News, can be contacted at

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