Hearing reveals Shane murder suspect’s mental state

Testimony during a pretrial hearing reveals intimate details from Sina Khankhanian’s girlfriend about his state of mind last year when, prosecutors say, he drove off Pacific Coast Highway and hit and killed 13-year-old Emily Shane. He is charged with one count of murder.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Friday last week told the man accused of killing 13-year-old Emily Shane with his car on Pacific Coast Highway last spring that he exhibited a “wantonness and conscious disregard for life” in the hours leading up to Shane’s death.

Judge Kathryn Solorzano’s comment ended the two-day preliminary hearing at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles, during which testimony was heard from the girlfriend of 27-year-old defendant Sina Khankhanian, as well as from witnesses to the April 3, 2010 accident that killed Shane. Solorzano ordered an arraignment for Jan. 28, at which Khankhanian will officially be charged with one count of murder in Shane’s death.

If he is convicted on the charge, Khankhanian faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is being held on $3 million bail.

Prosecutors expect a trial to begin sometime in the summer or fall.

The hearing marked the first time Shane’s parents and other family members had heard intimate details from Khankhanian’s girlfriend about his state of mind the day he drove up Pacific Coast Highway and swerved off the road, hitting Shane. They also heard testimony from motorists who witnessed Khankhanian driving erratically and from law enforcement officials who arrived at the scene of the accident after the crash.

During the two-day hearing Thursday and Friday last week, nearly 20 witnesses testified for the prosecution to Khankhanian’s actions and state of mind before, during and after the crash that killed Emily Shane.

Khankhanian’s girlfriend Mardi Martinez testified that he had expressed suicidal thoughts as early as 10 days before the crash. On April 3, Khankhanian left a two-page suicide note at the house he shared with Martinez, along with a check and a letter indicating he wanted to leave his finances to Martinez. He then drove off in his blue 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer, allegedly with the intent to end his life by crashing the car.

Several witnesses testified to Khankhanian’s reckless driving on a 17-mile stretch that included Topanga Canyon Boulevard, then north on Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu until the accident near the intersection with Heathercliff Road, where, in addition to striking Shane, the car collided with a power pole.

Jan Elfman, a West Los Angeles resident who followed Khankhanian along Topanga Canyon Boulevard, said his erratic driving was “like a video game, going from the far left to the far right, over and over again.”

Other motorists testified to having to move abruptly to avoid colliding with Khankhanian’s car.

Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters who arrived after the accident testified that Khankhanian’s behavior at the crime scene was confrontational and profane. He told several law enforcement officers that he “meant to do it,” referencing hitting the power pole on purpose. Witnesses also testified that Khankhanian expressed no remorse upon learning the girl had been killed in the crash. He told Fire Capt. Todd Christie that he had four glasses of wine, as well as four pills each of the prescription medications Klonopin and Ativan, which he said were prescribed to his girlfriend Martinez. Klonopin is used to treat seizure disorders or panic disorder. Ativan is used to treat anxiety or anxiety caused by severe depression. A paramedic who treated Khankhanian testified that Khankhanian said he also took Valium, which is used to treat anxiety disorders. Christie said he did not smell alcohol on Khankhanian’s breath.

In a partial post-accident report filed by Detective David Huelsen, it was estimated that Khankhanian was driving 70 mph when his car left the road. Huelsen testified that no skid marks were found at the scene, which would have indicated that the car braked as it left the roadway.

Khankhanian’s attorney, Bradley Brunon, argued that the murder charge should be reduced to gross vehicular manslaughter. Brunon said his client suffered from autism and did not recognize the danger his actions were posing to others. Solorzano rejected that argument, noting that no evidence was presented proving the severity of Khankhanian’s autism, or whether he suffered from it at all.

The ruling brought tears from members of Khankhanian’s family, of whom about 12 attended the hearing. About 20 friends and family of Emily Shane hugged after the ruling was announced.

Khankhanian’s father, who would not reveal his first name, told The Malibu Times, “We are so sorry about what happened. We are so sorry for the accident.”

He added that his son had “no intention to kill anyone.”

Khankhanian, wearing a jail-issued yellow shirt and blue sweatpants, did not take the stand and appeared impassive throughout the two-day hearing. He occasionally glanced at his lawyer when he spoke, but otherwise stared forward. He did not speak to his lawyer.

“We’re pleased [with the judge’s decision],” Shane’s father, Michel Shane, said. “The biggest disappointment is the fact that he drove for so long and there was no law enforcement, on a Saturday.”

According to a report last year from the Malibu / Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, there had been six emergency calls made regarding Khankhanian’s erratic driving, with the first four taking place before Shane was struck.

Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillienfeld told The Malibu Times in April that he could not say whether the fatality could have been avoided.

The family has since filed a lawsuit for monetary claims against the county and state, saying the agencies had neglected safety on the highway. The family also says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials failed to respond in a timely manner to the emergency phone calls about the erratic driving of Khankhanian.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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