A homicide detective testified Wednesday he was in a rush to locate a missing Baton Rouge woman, who later was found shot in the head and buried in a shallow grave, when he requested search warrants last year for her cellphone records and those of her ex-husband — local automobile dealer Hamid Ghassemi — and son.
Any information he left out of the search warrant applications was the result of that rush, and not — as Ghassemi’s attorneys have alleged — to mislead 19th Judicial District Commissioner Quintillis Lawrence into approving the search warrants on April 15, 2015, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s Cpl. Edward Nicholson Jr. said.
“No sir. I wasn’t trying to mislead the commissioner. I was in a hurry. I was trying to save this lady if I could,” Nicholson said in response to a question from Tommy Damico, one of Ghassemi’s attorneys.
Ghassemi, 65, and three alleged accomplices each are charged with first-degree murder in the alleged murder-for-hire of his former wife, Taherah Ghassemi, 54, whose body was found May 16, 2015, in rural St. Helena Parish.
Nicholson said he explained to Lawrence that Hamid Ghassemi allegedly had threatened to kill Taherah Ghassemi previously and that he had been ordered to pay her a large sum of money — more than $1 million — in a divorce settlement, even though that information was not included in the search warrant applications for cellphone records of Hamid and Taherah Ghassemi and their son, Hamed Ghassemi.
Nicholson’s testimony came during a hearing, which state District Judge Lou Daniel recessed until July 7, on a defense motion to suppress all evidence obtained through the search warrants. Ghassemi’s lawyers contend the warrants were unconstitutionally obtained and that all evidence collected via the warrants should be thrown out.
Lawrence could be called as a witness when the hearing resumes next month. Both sides indicated they will meet with the commissioner, which could negate the need for him to testify.
Damico said during the hearing that Ghassemi had paid his former wife the bulk of the money he owed her in the divorce prior to her death.
Hamid Ghassemi owned Import One and Import One Elite on Airline Highway. He is accused of paying $10,000 to have his ex-wife killed.
Nicholson testified that Hamid Ghassemi allegedly made a death threat against Taherah Ghassemi in December 2013 while she was working at a Wal-Mart in Denham Springs. A report was filed with the Denham Springs Police Department, the detective said while being questioned by prosecutor Dana Cummings.
Authorities have said cellphone records led them to Hamid Ghassemi and one of his alleged accomplices, Tyler Lee Ashpaugh, 21, of Denham Springs, and ultimately to Taherah Ghassemi’s body.
Daniel Humberto Richter, 34, of Walker, and Skyler Williams, 18, also of Denham Springs, likewise face first-degree murder charges in the case. Richter once worked at one of the car dealerships, detectives have said.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty against Hamid Ghassemi, Ashpaugh and Richter. Williams was 17 at the time of the slaying and would not be eligible for execution if found guilty as charged.
Nicholson testified it was Hamed Ghassemi who reported his mother missing April 12, 2015, from her North Laurel Creek residence, a home she obtained in the divorce settlement. Her burned car was discovered the same day on Chalma Avenue.
Hamid Ghassemi’s attorneys claim Nicholson misled Lawrence because the search warrant applications for the father’s and son’s cellphones refer only to “H. Ghassemi.”
“It was getting confusing with the ‘id’ and ‘ed’,” Nicholson testified, referring to Hamid and Hamed Ghassemi.
Hamid Ghassemi’s cellphone records indicate he received a call from Ashpaugh about 12:45 a.m. the morning after Taherah Ghassemi disappeared, sheriff’s officials have said. Ashpaugh’s phone records show he had been at her house the night she disappeared and at the sites where her burned car was found and her body was located, authorities said.
Nicholson testified Wednesday that Taherah Ghassemi and her son had been bickering in the days leading up to her death, but East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said Hamed Ghassemi is not a suspect in his mother’s death.