Nearly three years behind bars has left Baton Rouge automobile dealer Hamid Ghassemi financially unable to hire investigators and experts to help him defend against capital murder charges that he paid $10,000 to have his ex-wife killed in 2015, his attorneys claim.

East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors announced in January they'll seek the death penalty if Ghassemi, 66, is convicted of first-degree murder in the alleged murder-for-hire of 54-year-old Taherah Ghassemi.


Now, Hamid Ghassemi's lawyers, who were hired by him, have filed motions asking state District Judge Lou Daniel to declare Ghassemi indigent.

"Hamid Ghassemi is indigent, and therefore his counsel must petition the Court for the funds necessary to obtain the investigative and expert witness assistance required," Brent Stockstill, one of Ghassemi's attorneys, wrote in a motion filed Feb. 14.

Ghassemi, who owned Import One and Import One Elite on Airline Highway at the time of the killing, also is represented by Tommy Damico. Stockstill is Damico's law partner.

Damico said Wednesday that if Daniel finds Ghassemi indigent, the funds for experts would have to come from the Louisiana Public Defender Board.

The "motion to determine indigency status" that Stockstill filed says Ghassemi has been in jail since his May 17, 2015, arrest and made no income in 2016 or 2017.

"Hamid Ghassemi does not have access to funds sufficient to allow him the experts necessary to adequately defend a death penalty case," Stockstill wrote. A mitigation expert and other experts are needed, he said.

Damico said Ghassemi no longer owns Import One and Import One Elite.

"He lost everything when he went to jail," Damico said.

Last year, the son of Hamid and Taherah Ghassemi sued his father and his three alleged accomplices in the slaying. Hamed Ghassemi is seeking damages from his father; Daniel Humberto Richter, 36, of Walker; and Tyler Lee Ashpaugh, 23, and Skyler Williams, 20, both of Denham Springs. Williams was 17 at the time of the incident. Prosecutors have said they will seek a sentence of life without parole for him.


Ashpaugh told detectives he went with Richter, who once worked at one of Hamid Ghassemi's auto dealerships, and Williams to Taherah Ghassemi's North Laurel Creek home and kidnapped her, authorities have said. She was put in the trunk of her car and driven to a heavily wooded area near Pine Grove in St. Helena Parish.

Her body was found May 16, 2015, in a shallow grave in that area. She had been shot in the head. Her burned car was found in Baton Rouge.


Stockstill also has filed a motion asking that Hamid Ghassemi's attorneys be allowed to file all applications for investigative and expert assistance under seal to prevent prosecutors from eavesdropping on the defense.

"Unless such defense motions are filed under seal … the District Attorney, in effect, will be permitted to 'eavesdrop' on the defense preparation of its case and learn the information it would not otherwise be privy to, were the defendant not indigent," Stockstill argued.

In yet another motion, Stockstill wants the judge to order prosecutors to disclose any victim impact evidence it intends to use if the capital case proceeds to a penalty phase.

Stockstill, a former East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutor, cautioned that there is a "dark and distasteful side of this sort of evidence."

"The defense finds all of this quite distasteful but it will be the prosecution's choice to present victim impact evidence," he stated. "If it chooses to do so, it must disclose to the defense any 'degrading evidence' about the victim.

"The defense reiterates that it finds this request to be distasteful, but no more so than the notion that a given capital defendant should live or die based on whether the prosecution views a given murder victim to be more or less 'worthy' than another murder victim," Stockstill wrote.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office has not yet filed its responses to the motions.

Ghassemi and Ashpaugh do not have trial dates. Richter and Williams are scheduled to stand trial June 11 and Aug. 27, respectively. All four men are being held without bond on first-degree murder charges.

So far, prosecutors have announced their intention to seek the death penalty only against Ghassemi.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.