A former Baton Rouge car dealer's trial in the alleged 2015 murder-for-hire of his ex-wife was pushed back to March 1 after he flip-flopped Monday and told a judge he no longer wants to represent himself.

Hamid Ghassemi, who was set to stand trial Monday on a first-degree murder charge that would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison, instead said he wants to hire prominent New Orleans lawyer Martin Regan.

"I need an attorney. The more I read the documents there is no way I can represent myself," said Ghassemi, who has fired three previous lawyers and sued two of them.

Ghassemi, 69, had stated over the last two months that he wished to represent himself and did not even need the assistance of a backup attorney.

Ghassemi told state District Judge Tarvald Smith on Monday that he wants to hire Regan as his lead lawyer and act as his co-counsel.

Prosecutor Dana Cummings argued Ghassemi has no constitutional right to serve as his own co-counsel.

Smith agreed and said Ghassemi does, however, have a right to assist in his defense.

Regan was in the courtroom Monday, but because Ghassemi has not hired him and Regan has not enrolled as his attorney, the judge did not allow Regan to speak during the proceeding. Regan did meet with Smith and Cummings in the judge's chambers, and Regan was allowed to meet with Ghassemi after court.

Smith said later in the courtroom that he will appoint a lawyer to represent Ghassemi, and if Ghassemi hires Regan or another attorney, he will relieve the appointed lawyer.

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 killing.

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

Ashpaugh pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a future 40-year prison term. 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, 54, 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 discovered May 16 of that year in a wooded area in St. Helena Parish.


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