A former pot grower, his "psycho" friend and a third suspect kidnapped the owner of a flourishing marijuana collective and tortured him, demanding he tell them where he buried $1 million in the Mojave Desert, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors argued that Kyle Handley, 38, helped plan the kidnapping over nearly seven months and drove a rented van 142 miles into the desert in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, 2012 while two of his high school friends, Hossein Nayeri and Ryan Kevorkian, allegedly tortured the victim with a blow torch, rubber hose and a Taser.
The suspects believed the victim, who ran a flourishing medical marijuana collective in Santa Ana, had hidden the money, proceeds from the all-cash business.
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Defense attorneys tried to throw Nayeri under the bus, saying he was the instigator who made sure Handley was involved every step of the way.
Prosecutors called Nayeri a parasite but they say Handley knew what he was doing and is just as guilty.
"If you get your psycho friend Hossein Nayeri involved in something like this and you let him know that somebody's got a bunch of money and you see him with a blow torch and instruments of torture, you don't get to claim later, 'Uh, I didn't know he was going to hurt the guy,'" said Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy during closing arguments in Handley's trial in Santa Ana.
Jurors heard how Mary Barnes, the main victim's roommate, was bound with zip ties, blind folded then driven to the Mojave Desert, as she listened to three men torture and sever the genitals of her roommate.
Prosecutors connected three of the suspects and say the fourth had to be Handley, a close friend of Nayeri. Jurors saw photos of Handley and Nayeri from years ago, were told they had known each other since high school and that Handley was one of four people Nayeri trusted.
Nayeri, who prosecutors say was also in the marijuana business, was awaiting trial in this case when he escaped from the Men's Central Jail in 2016. NBC4 first first broadcast video that Nayeri shot of his escape on a cellphone he managed to have smuggled into the lockup.
Defense attorneys say the evidence against Handley is circumstantial and that Nayeri had access to his home, his car and more.
"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."
Handley faces two counts of kidnapping, plus mayhem and torture, a possible life sentence. Nayeri's trial is set for March. He has denied any involvement in the crime.
Kevorkian's next court date is set for later this month. His attorney declined to comment.