ALHAMBRA (CNS) - A South Pasadena father pleaded guilty Tuesday to first- degree murder for killing his 5-year-old son, whose body was found in Santa Barbara County after a roughly two-month search.
Aramazd Andressian Sr., 35, faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 23 for the killing of Aramazd "Piqui" Andressian Jr.
Prosecutors said Andressian killed his son in the midst of a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife, Ana Estevez. Estevez attended the brief court hearing in Alhambra, carrying her son's ashes in an urn. Crying erupted in the courtroom when Andressian -- sporting a beard and mustache with his hair still dyed a light color -- admitted killing the boy.
Authorities have not said how the boy died.
"Today, Mr. Andressian took responsibility for what he did and he pled guilty to first-degree murder," defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez told reporters outside court. "It was Mr. Andressian, who when he was brought back from Las Vegas, that gave the officers the information as to where his son was buried.
Today marks the beginning, at least the beginning of an end to this awful tragedy and the hope that in the future, the family -- and not just the mother's side, but also the father's side of the family -- can begin to get what closure they can from this tragedy," he said.
The defense attorney said the hearing was pushed up from Aug. 16 because his client wanted to "plead guilty and take responsibility for what he did," telling reporters his client is "beyond words in regretting having committed such an act."
"This was not planned," Rodriguez told reporters.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said it's the prosecution's position that "the evidence clearly supports the fact that it was planned, that it was premeditated, it was deliberate, he had this in mind before he actually committed the murder."
Hum told reporters the prosecution didn't feel there was sufficient evidence to support a special circumstance allegation against Andressian in his son's death, which could have led to a sentence of either death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The defense attorney had said that one of the reasons Andressian -- who was on suicide watch at one point after his arrest -- pleaded guilty early in the case was to avoid having the District Attorney's Office file a special circumstance allegation against him.
Attorneys said there was no agreement worked out between the two sides involving the plea.
"He could not have gotten anything more if we had gone to trial," Hum said, telling reporters he was "not really at liberty to say exactly when the murder occurred or how it occurred."
Aramazd Andressian Jr. was last seen alive at 1 a.m. April 21 leaving Disneyland with his father, who was found unconscious at Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena the next day and was unable to account for the child's whereabouts.
The elder Andressian told investigators he arrived at the park with his son and waited for the golf course to open, and admitted ingesting prescription medication that was not prescribed to him, according to Lt. Joe Mendoza of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau.
The father said he did not remember what happened to his child or any details that were useful in locating the boy, according to Mendoza, who said a prescription bottle was found inside his car, which was doused with gasoline inside and out.
The elder Andressian was arrested but released for lack of evidence. He was arrested again June 23 in Las Vegas, waived extradition and was returned to Los Angeles County on June 30 to face the murder charge.
The boy's body was found that same day near the Lake Cachuma Recreation Area in Santa Barbara County, in an area that had been searched before.
According to a Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services report obtained by the Southern California News Group, Andressian told investigators around the time of his arrest in Las Vegas that he had "harmed" the boy and "left him." He also told investigators where to find the boy's body, according to the report.
According to Mendoza, the killing was "pre-planned" and took place between the time Andressian and his son left Disneyland and the father was discovered at the South Pasadena park.
The boy's mother called authorities when the father failed to return him as planned.
Mendoza alleged that the elder Andressian planned the murder to get back at his estranged wife during a "tumultuous" divorce and then tried to commit suicide -- before heading to Las Vegas where he was preparing to flee the United States.
The search for the boy spanned several Southern California counties. Authorities focused on the Lake Cachuma area because Andressian Sr. told them he took the boy there the day after the Disneyland trip.
Funeral services for the boy were held July 18 in South Pasadena, with Estevez reading a letter she wrote to her lost son.
"My dearest Piqui, at no time did I ever imagine having to write such a letter, nor did the thought of life without you ever enter my mind," she said.
"Although I find myself living with an eternal shadow of devastation and emptiness because I don't have you here with me, I want the world to see what an amazing child you were, through my eyes, and to see you as the gift that God blessed me with for five years, two months and two days."