Baton Rouge car dealership owner Hamid Ghassemi and three other men were indicted on first-degree murder charges Thursday in the alleged murder-for-hire of Ghassemi’s ex-wife, whose body was found buried in a shallow grave in rural St. Helena Parish more than a month after her April disappearance.
Ghassemi, 64, had been ordered in February to pay Taherah Ghassemi more than $1 million as part of a settlement in a long and bitter divorce battle.
Hamid Ghassemi is accused of paying $10,000 to Skyler W. Williams, 18, and Tyler Lee Ashpaugh, 21, both of Denham Springs, and Daniel Humberto Richter, 33, of Walker, to abduct, kill and dispose of his former wife.
Taherah Ghassemi, 54, was shot in the head.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday his office will consider seeking the death penalty — a punishment he called appropriate — against Ghassemi, 1834 E. Carriage House Drive; Richter, 12135 Clanton Drive; and Ashpaugh, 9285 Greystone Drive.
Williams, 30906 La. 16, was only 17 at the time of the crime and is not eligible for the death penalty.
“This was a very calculated and cowardly crime committed on a defenseless woman,” Moore said shortly after an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury returned the indictment.
Taherah Ghassemi’s body was discovered May 16. The four men were arrested the next day.
Richter once worked at one of Ghassemi’s car dealerships, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s detectives have said, and Ashpaugh and Williams were described as associates of Richter. Ghassemi’s dealerships on Airline Highway are Import One and Import One Elite.
“It’s very easy to jump to conclusions in this type of case, but it’s very early,” said Hamid Ghassemi’s attorney, James Rothkamm. “There’s a lot of evidence that’s out there that hasn’t been submitted.”
Ashpaugh’s attorney, Jim Boren, said the indictment is just the first step in what is expected to be a long process.
“Tyler and his family are optimistic for a far more favorable result than is being considered by the district attorney,” he said.
Jeff Heggelund, who represents Richter, said he could not comment on what he believes the evidence shows until he’s had a chance to review it.
Williams’ attorney, David Rozas, declined comment, saying he had just heard about the indictment.
The Sheriff’s Office has said previously that a search of Hamid Ghassemi’s cellphone records revealed he received a call from Ashpaugh about 12:45 a.m. on the morning after his former wife disappeared. Ashpaugh’s phone records showed he had been at Taherah Ghassemi’s house on North Laurel Creek Court the night she disappeared, April 11, and at the sites where her burned car was found and her body was located, authorities said.
Ashpaugh told detectives he went with Williams and Richter to Taherah Ghassemi’s home and abducted her, putting her in the trunk of her 2004 Jaguar sedan. They drove to a heavily wooded area just north of Pine Grove, where she was buried, the Sheriff’s Office has said.
The woman was shot at some point. Her body was wrapped in a blanket stolen from her home, authorities said.
In addition to the $10,000, the Sheriff’s Office said, Hamid Ghassemi gave the men a tank of gasoline to burn her car, which was found torched about 2:30 a.m. on April 12 on a portion of Chalma Avenue surrounded by fields just north of South Choctaw Drive.
Taherah Ghassemi was last seen alive April 11. She was reported missing the morning of April 13.
Hamid Ghassemi and his three co-defendants are being held without bail.
The case has been assigned to state District Judge Lou Daniel.