Court reverses California Governor’s rejection of Hampig Sassounian parole

The Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday reversed a decision by Governor Gavin Newson who rejected the parole eligibility and application of Hampig Sassounian, court documents obtained by Asbarez show.

Despite a recommendation in December 2019 by the Board of Parole in favor of Sassounian’s suitability, Newsom, last May, rejected that decision and denied his parole, saying in a lengthy decision that while he acknowledged the steps Sassounian had taken over decades to rehabilitate himself, he did not believe Sassounian to be fit for release.

“I commend Mr. Sassounian for his rehabilitative efforts in prison, but I find they are outweighed by negative factors that show he remains unsuitable for parole at this time,” said Newsom at the time. “I believe that Mr. Sassounian has not yet demonstrated that he has developed and sustained the necessary insight and skills for a sufficiently long period.”

Saying Newsom’s decision was “arbitrary and procedurally flawed,” LA County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan on Wednesday granted Sassounian’s attorney’s motion to reverse the governor’s decision ruling that Newsom “used an improper standard” when “considering both the ‘import’ of his offense and the notoriety of his victim.”

Ryan also said it did find evidence to support Newsom’s decision that Sassounian “posed an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.”

With its ruling on Wednesday, the court vacated Newsom’s decision to reject Sassounian’s parole and reinstated the California Parole Board’s decision to grant Sassounian parole.

“The wheels of justice sometimes move slowly, but this is the right time for this decision. I applaud the team of lawyers and activists working on this case for decades,” California State Senator Anthony Portantino told Asbarez on Thursday.

“This is an important case not just for his family but for California. We have done many things in justice reform on behalf of teenagers and it’s nice to see that it has benefitted Hampig,” added Portantino. “The community can sleep peacefully and joyfully tonight.”

“Wednesday’s decision by the court is a welcome change in the status for Hampig Sassounian, whose eligibility for parole was unjustly rejected last year by the governor,” attorney Levon Kirakosian told Asbarez on Thursday “The Armenian community has waited with bated breath for this moment and I am confident that Hampig’s release will be imminent.”

“Hampig’s family and the entire Armenian community applaud and appreciate the court’s ruling,” added Kirakosian, who for the past four decades has worked on or closely with Sassounian’s legal team.

“As an organization which expressed its disappointment last year to the governor for his decision to overturn the unanimous votes of two separate Parole Boards to grant parole to Hampig Sassounian on humanitarian grounds, we are gratified that the court has issued its favorable ruling today in which it overturned the Governor’s unfounded decision. We are confident that justice has finally been served, and we are grateful that the court agreed,” said Nora Hovsepian, Esq., the chair of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region.

Harry M. Sassounian, also known as Hampig Sassounian, is serving a life sentence for the 1982 assassination of Turkish Consul General Kemal Arıkan (or Arikan) at a street intersection in Los Angeles, California, United States.

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