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
hooked into this story by yet another twist in this mystery.
2000, I wrote a series of stories involving an Iranian family in San Antonio
who claimed the FBI had framed them for insurance fraud.
same year Ashkan Panah was sentenced to death in California, 1995, federal
agents raided the Iranian family�s business.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. . . ."
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.
then, like the rest of this deadly tragedy, nothing can be assumed to be as it
appears -- at least on the surface.
reporter talked with Ashkan Panah by telephone from death row a number of times
for this story.
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.
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.
this reporter attempted to confirm the whereabouts of Ahmad Seihoon. A public
records search shows that he was reported deceased on April 19, 1995.
Panah's mother claims Seihoon was murdered; shot three times in front of a
restaurant he owned in the Los Angeles area.
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.
Supreme Court ruling in the automatic appeal
and Order removing Judge Couwenberg from office
Analytical DNA report - Calandro
Analytical DNA report - Petersen Inman
Baden's statement on victim's death
Police Department note related to withholding documents from the defense
broadcast reporting missing juvenile
Part 1: The
Part 2: Test
Bill Conroy, an investigative reporter and
correspondent for Narco News, can be contacted at
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