By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
If Homayan Bakhtar murdered Andrea Nelson, then he committed what prosecutors call the "perfect" crime—one that looks suspicious but lacks sufficient evidence to prove in court.
On Jan. 27, 2003, Homayan Bakhtar, 45, brought 20-year-old Nelson to Hoag Hospital, saying she had passed out in her car. Nelson, who had a lethal amount of cocaine in her system, never regained consciousness. Police found no cocaine at Bakhtar's house, but they did find GHB, the "date-rape" drug. But the coroner's office, which failed to check her stomach or urine, found no GHB in her blood.
Bakhtar told police Nelson was a frequent user of cocaine, but hadn't used any in his presence. He admitted having sex with her the night she died—and added that they were consensual sex partners for several months—so no rape kit was performed. All of which helps explain why, although Newport Beach police were initially suspicious about Nelson's death, the Orange County district attorney's office never charged Bakhtar with murder.
As the Weekly reported two weeks ago (see "Requiem for a Dreamgirl," Dec. 2), the Tustin resident died just two days after the Tustin Police Department released her identity as an informant in an internal affairs investigation involving sex, drugs, corrupt cops and the recently shuttered Santa Ana strip club Mr. J's.
Nelson was the ex-girlfriend of Sammy Johar, whose family owned Mr. J's but who left the business in late 2002, fleeing drug charges. He has reportedly left the country and remains a fugitive. Linda Cator, Nelson's mother, believes that Bakhtar murdered her daughter because Andrea told police about Johar's criminal activity.
Cator has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bakhtar, who faces narcotics charges stemming from the drugs police found in his home. But Matt Murphy, the deputy DA who investigated Nelson's death after Newport Beach police forwarded the case to him in late 2003, says no credible evidence exists to support a homicide case against Bakhtar.
"When the case came in, it was certainly very suspicious," Murphy said. "I was excited about it, but when you start looking at particular details like the toxicology results and see how high the cocaine levels were in her blood and her [drug] history, a very different picture begins to emerge."
Specifically, Murphy said, Nelson had been previously hospitalized for a drug overdose just months before her death. In fact, hospital records show an unidentified friend brought an unconscious Nelson to UCI Medical Center on Aug. 4, 2002, and that on that occasion she had overdosed on GHB.
Through her attorney, Norman Fernandez, Linda Cator refused to be interviewed for this article because of her suit against Bakhtar. But Cator had previously stated that the incident wasn't an overdose—it was a case of her daughter being slipped GHB at a nightclub.
Eric Hammond, an acquaintance of Nelson's, says he saw her that night at an Anaheim nightclub. "It was either the Grove or the Boogie," he said. Nelson was still there when he left. Hammond says he received a telephone call from a mutual friend who said she had passed out and been taken to the hospital.
"I can't remember how, but I ended up bringing her mom to the hospital," he said. "That was the only time I met her. We arrived late that night, maybe 2 or 3 a.m. We just missed her. She had been released."
Karen Porter, Nelson's former hairdresser, says Nelson later told her somebody slipped GHB into her drink that night.
"I asked Andrea point-blank if she had done that to herself," Porter said. "She said she had one drink and set it down and that's how it happened to her. She thought it was one guy who was dancing with her at the nightclub and put something in her drink."
Porter claims Nelson told her she stopped using drugs after she broke up with Johar several months before she died. "She was completely off the drugs when she had broken up with Sammy," Porter said. "She had a new boyfriend who wasn't doing drugs. She was still going to nightclubs and was drinking but swore to me she didn't do any drugs that night, and I believed her."
If Nelson had stopped using drugs, she apparently started again after meeting Bakhtar in October 2002. A Newport Beach police report states that a friend of Nelson said she and Nelson had used cocaine with Bakhtar at his house.
On the night Nelson died, Cator says, her daughter was simply trying to retrieve a jacket she had recently left at Bakhtar's house. Cator says her daughter was sober when she left and sounded sober 20 minutes later, when Cator called Nelson at Bakhtar's house. But Bakhtar told police Nelson looked high when she arrived. Strangely, his brother, Bahman Bakhtar, who was also at the house that night, contradicted that claim. "Bahman Bakhtar said he greeted [Nelson] and she appeared to be normal," the report says. "Bahman Bakhtar said she did not appear to be under the influence of drugs."
Despite such inconsistencies, the DA's Murphy says there's no physical evidence that Nelson was murdered. And although hospital reports show Nelson arrived at Hoag Hospital cold to the touch—suggesting she hadn't just passed out in her car—Murphy said there was no law requiring Bakhtar to immediately drive her to the hospital.
"If somebody has inflicted something on themselves, whether a gunshot or an overdose, there is no obligation for someone else to help them in any way," Murphy said. "If there was some evidence we could work with that showed [Bakhtar] was negligent, we wouldn't dismiss that out of hand. But there just wasn't any evidence of anything other than voluntary intoxication and an overdose."
Murphy added that the autopsy report shows no evidence that Bakhtar forced Nelson to take cocaine. "She had no injection sites," he said. "The cocaine is what killed her, and the next question is whether it was forced on her, and there was no evidence it was."
In January 2005, a few months after Murphy decided not to charge Bakhtar with murder, Cator met with his boss, David Brent, who supervises the DA's homicide unit. In a Dec. 8 interview, Brent said he agreed to reopen the murder case and spent several months looking for any evidence to support Cator's theory.
He couldn't find any, but he says his office is always open to new evidence.
"There's no conclusion that, for a fact, Andrea Nelson did not die at the hands of foul play," Brent said. "The evidence, to me, points otherwise, but there's no statute of limitations on murder. Evidence can change."