Khankhanian pleads not guilty to murder


judge recuses self Defense attorney discusses strategy for case.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Sina Khankhanian, 27, pled not guilty in court last week Friday to the charge of murder in the death of 13-year-old Emily Shane.

Shane died on April 3 last year, when Khankhanian allegedly drove his car off Pacific Coast Highway, hitting her as she walked home from a friend’s house.

Superior Court Judge H. Chester Horn, Jr. was originally scheduled to hear the arraignment at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles, but recused himself from the case due to personal connections with the Shane family. The case was reassigned to Judge Stephanie Sautner, who set a pretrial hearing for March 8.

Khankhanian is charged with one count of murder, using a deadly weapon, the car that struck her. Authorities in a Sheriff’s report on the incident indicated they believed Khankhanian did not intentionally hit Shane, but was trying to kill himself by driving his car off the road and into the power pole. If convicted, he faces a possible maximum penalty of life without parole. He is being held on $3 million bail.

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

Khankhanian’s attorney Bradley Brunon argued unsuccessfully at the preliminary hearings on Jan. 13 and 14 that the murder charge should be reduced to gross vehicular manslaughter.

On Friday, Brunon told The Malibu Times that the defense had retained a psychologist to examine Khankhanian for neurological issues. Brunon said his client had autism and Tourette syndrome, and “those two things have been historically diagnosed for a decade” in Khankhanian. Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to form normal social relationships and communicate with others. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent involuntary tics, both body movements such as eye blinks and grimaces, and vocal tics such as utterance of inappropriate words.

Brunon said that Khankhanian’s behavior at the crime scene, where Sheriff’s deputies and firefighters have testified he was confrontational, profane and expressed no remorse upon learning Shane had been killed in the crash, was a result of the disorders he suffered from.

“We’re trying to have a professional opinion connecting the condition[s] to the statements… because that really aggravated the situation,” Brunon said. “He had no recollection of it, I mean it’s a very sad thing that it exacerbated it so badly. He certainly didn’t mean the literal content of what he was saying.”

Brunon added that Khankhanian “didn’t even know until two days later what had happened; he just had kind of a disconnect there.”

Prosecutor Marna Miller declined to comment on the case.

Judge Kathryn Solorzano concluded the two-day preliminary hearing on Jan. 14 by telling Khankhanian he exhibited a “wantonness and conscious disregard for life” in the hours leading up to Shane’s death. 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.