Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   20 January

After more than 3 decades in notorious San Quentin prison, Harry Sassounian set to have parole hearing

YEREVAN, JUNE 1, ARMENPRESS. Harry aka Hampig Sassounian, the Lebanese-Armenian gunman who is serving a life sentence in the US for the 1982 assassination of Turkey’s Consul General in Los Angeles, will have his next parole hearing on June 29th, according to the Board of Parole Hearings of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Kemal Arikan,54, the Turkish Consul General, was gunned down by two gunmen in his car while waiting at a red light in an intersection in Westwood, Los Angeles in 1982. Sassounian was 19 years old at the time.

Witnesses identified Sassounian as one of the gunmen.

A group calling itself Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG) called Los Angeles news media and claimed responsibility for the attack.

During the trial, the prosecutors indicated that Sassounian "was motivated to kill Arikan by vengeance for the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish Ottomans of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923."

The jury determined that Sassounian, shot Arikan to death on January 28, 1982 at 9:40am. Because the jury determined that the killing targeted Arikan based on his nationality, Sassounian was sentenced without the possibility of parole. He was convicted in 1984. Sassounian initially denied killing the consul.

But 20 years after the murder, in 2002, Sassounian admitted for the first time his role in the killing in exchange for the possibility of eventual release from state prison.

Harry Sassounian was granted a chance to be eligible for parole in 2002 under terms of the settlement with prosecutors, with the first hearing scheduled for 2006.

"I participated in the murder of Kemal Arikan," Sassounian said in Superior Court on October 18, 2002 in Los Angeles. "I renounce the use of terrorist tactics such as the assassination of diplomats to achieve political goals. I regret the suffering of the Arikan family”, Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying in court.

Sassounian was eventually given a parole hearing for the first time in 2006, but subsequently he was denied.  His next hearing was scheduled for 2010, and again he was denied.

Sassounian's attorney, Mark Geragos, said he didn't view the first hearing decision as a setback, arguing that it is rare for parole to be granted on the first try, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"The parole commissioners were very complimentary of his chances next time around," Geragos said in a telephone interview with Los Angeles Times.

Six years later after the second denial, in 2016, the California Board of Parole Hearings eventually recommended Sassounian’s release from prison. 

The board said Sassounian, traumatized by horrific warfare in his native Lebanon as a child, had accepted responsibility for his crime, shown remorse, and participated in numerous treatment and job-training programs in prison.

But Sassounian’s parole was vetoed by California governor Jerry Brown in 2017. The decision was unexpected for many, for Brown has affirmed almost 82 percent of the parole board decisions.

Surprisingly, Jerry Brown announced his decision a day before President Trump’s meeting at the White House with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Sassounian’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, called the governor’s action “alarming.”

“This was a young kid, clearly swayed by emotion at the time” of the killing, who is now “being used repeatedly as a political football,” Geragos said. “I don’t understand why the State Department is involved,” he said, and “I didn’t realize that the governor was trying to curry favor with the brutal dictator Erdogan.”

Turks living in the US have already began sending letters to the parole board opposing the release of Sassounian in the upcoming 2018 hearing, according to Turkish media.

ENGLISH: Editor/Translator - Stepan Kocharyan

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