A former Baton Rouge automobile dealer accused in the 2015 murder-for-hire of his ex-wife reiterated Tuesday that he'll represent himself at his trial and doesn't want a lawyer's help.

Hamid Ghassemi, 69, is scheduled to stand trial Sept. 14 on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of Taherah Ghassemi, 54.

At the request of prosecutor Dana Cummings, state District Judge Tarvald Smith offered Tuesday to appoint standby counsel in case Ghassemi needs advice or has questions during the trial, but Ghassemi rejected the offer.

"Once again, I have to place my trust in God," Ghassemi told Smith during a hearing in the case.

"My faith in God tells me I want to make sure you get a fair trial," the judge replied.

Cummings stated in a motion filed last week that Ghassemi has "exhibited a lack of knowledge of the laws of criminal procedure" and could benefit "by having standby counsel with whom he may confer."

Smith, who ruled last month that Ghessemi could represent himself, explained to him Tuesday that selecting a jury is "kind of a science" and said a standby attorney could assist him in that process.

"I can pick the jury myself. I don't need a backup lawyer," Ghassemi responded.

Smith acknowledged he has spoken with several attorneys about possibly serving as standby counsel, but he said they expressed concerns that Ghassemi — who fired three previous lawyers in the case and sued two of them — might sue them if he is convicted or file a complaint with the state bar association.

The judge said he still may decide to appoint a lawyer or lawyers to serve as standby counsel.

"You're going to be the lead counsel. You're going to call the shots. You are the boss of your trial," Smith assured Ghassemi.

The judge allowed the Sept. 14 trial date to stand for now.

Prosecutors are not pursuing the death penalty against Ghassemi. He would be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty as charged.

Ghassemi, who owned Import One and Import One Elite on Airline Highway at the time of Taherah Ghassemi's death, is accused of paying $10,000 to have her killed. He had paid his ex-wife $1 million in a divorce settlement.

Two of Ghassemi's alleged accomplices — Daniel Humberto Richter, 38, of Walker, and Tyler Lee Ashpaugh, 26, of Denham Springs — have admitted their roles in the slaying.

Richter, who once worked for Hamid Ghassemi, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and second-degree kidnapping in exchange for a future 50-year prison term. Richter admitted taking part in Taherah Ghassemi's abduction and killing, and said he buried her body.

Ashpaugh pleaded guilty to manslaughter in return for a future 40-year prison sentence. He said he shot the victim in the head but claimed she was already dead when he shot her.

But a forensic pathologist has said Taherah Ghassemi was still alive but likely unconscious when she was shot, according to records previously filed in the case.

A third alleged accomplice, Skyler Williams, 22, of Denham Springs, is charged with first-degree murder in the case and faces a possible life sentence without parole if found guilty on that charge. He was 17 at the time of the killing.

Taherah Ghassemi disappeared April 11, 2015, from her Baton Rouge home. Her body was found May 16 of that year in a wooded area in St. Helena Parish.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.