See the update at the end of this post about Justin Tombleson facing another trial for prior convictions that could send him to state prison for 34 years with a conviction. Bajador Hossain Saidian name corrected throughout.
ORIGINAL POST, MAY 23, 3:05 P.M.: An Orange County Superior Court jury today found Justin Alvin Masao Tombleson guilty of fatally stabbing a Santa Margarita Catholic High School hockey coach and his friend who'd been standing in line at a local Mexican joint when a fight broke out.
But the jurors did not go for murder counts, as the prosecution sought, but voluntary manslaughter.
That will significantly cut the sentence the 30-year-old Lake Forest man will receive. He had been looking at a maximum 67 years to life in state prison if convicted of felony double murder.
Elvis Kechechian, a 26-year-old strength and conditioning coach for the hockey team; his brother Aris Kechechian; his friend Bajador Hossain Saidian, 32; and another friend went to Albatros Mexican Food on Rockfield in Lake Forest around 2 a.m. on June 11, 2011. They'd been out drinking that night at a bowling alley in Anaheim.
Elvis Kechechian, who also owned a personal-training business, stood in line while the others went to the restroom. The original Orange County District Attorney's office reports stated the bloodshed that would follow started when Erica Cardenalli cut in line in front of Kechechian, she having been dancing and drinking that night with her boyfriend Tombleson and some other friends at a Foothill Ranch bar. But testimony in court had Cardenalli joining a friend in line behind Kechechian and blowing him off and talking on her cell phone while he tried to talk with her.
That led to insults, and when Aris Kechechian and the other friends returned, a verbal fight began with Cardenalli and her friends that included Aris spitting on her. It got so out of hand the restaurant owner asked them all to leave.
As everyone was making their way to the parking lot, Cardenalli called Tombleson, who was already on his way there. He arrived with some more friends, and witnesses said he was the first to take a swing at anyone. That led to a brawl.
Tombleson was soon on the ground getting pummeled before his friends joined the fray. According to witnesseses, Tombleson took a knife out of his pocket and made a circular motion with it at his targets. Elvis Kechechian sustained a stab wound that punctured his aorta and eviscerated his intestines, resulting in internal bleeding. He'd died within an hour.
Saidian was stabbed multiple times in the chest and arm. He underwent surgery at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, was declared brain dead a few days later and he soon passed away.
The defense argued Tombleson was defending himself, according to a City News Service report. Defense attorney Keith Bruno said the case was "about the valid use of self-defense that resulted in tragic consequences for both.'' Bruno alleged the Kechechian brothers "violently assaulted'' patrons in the restaurant, and noted that when their group arrived at the eatery, they parked in a spot for disabled drivers.
"When Aris Kechechian pulled up to that handicapped spot, he was saying, `I don't give a (expletive) about consequences,''' Bruno said. The brothers took off their shirts after they were kicked out of the restaurant and were walking to their car, Bruno added. "What does that say?" the lawyer asked rhetorically. "They're challenging anyone and everyone to a fight.''
He maintained his client tried to talk to the brothers, who responded with their fists. As Tombleson was being "stomped,'' Bruno said, Tombleson got a "work'' knife to defend himself. The lawyer quoted a witness who told investigators "the stabbing stopped the fighting,'' which is the "essence of self-defense.''
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UPDATE, MAY 23, 4:40 P.M.: According to a statement from the Orange County District Attorney's office, the court will hear a bifurcated trial on Tombleson's prior convictions at 9 a.m. June 7 in Santa Ana. His prior convictions stem from a case that had him pleading guilty Nov. 7, 2005, to a felony count of battery with serious bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon likely to produce great bodily injury.
Tombleson faces a maximum sentence of 34 years in state prison if convicted of the prior strike offenses, according to prosecutors. The normal sentence for the voluntary manslaughter counts, with a sentencing enhancement for use of a deadly weapon, is 15 years.
Deputy District Attorney Steve McGreevy, who is prosecuting the case, tells City News Service he is pleased with the conviction despite having argued for first-degree murder. "The jury rejected the justified self defense and found the killing was unlawful, and it was a senseless, needless crime,'' McGreevy reportedly said.