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Trial begins in Valley Village restaurant shooting that left four men dead

In a downtown L.A. courtroom, Nerses Arthur Galstyan winced as a prosecutor projected images of four bullet-ridden bodies in a banquet hall.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Chung said Tuesday during opening statements in Galstyan's trial that the 25-year-old had fired at least 50 rounds during a party for a deceased friend. Ballistic evidence showed that 30 bullets were found in the bodies of six people, most of whom had been shot while a gunman was standing over them, Chung said.

“Was this an execution or was he so in fear for his life that he had to get a gun?” Chung asked the jury during his opening statements.

Chung argued that Galstyan, 32, did not fear for his life on April 3, 2010, when he opened fire, killing Hayk Yegnanyan, 25; Sarkis Karadjian, 26; Harut Baburyan, 28; and Vardan Tofalyan, 31. Galstyan was charged April 22, 2010, with four counts of first-degree murder. He also faces two counts of attempted murder and one count of mayhem. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

At the April 2010 gathering, Galstyan and his brother, Sam Galstyan, were with a group of guests remembering Artiom Tashchian, who died the previous year in a car crash. After visiting the gravesite, the mourning party moved to the Hot Spot restaurant in Valley Village for lunch, said Chung.

As the gathering broke up, a group of about 12 people, including the Galstyan brothers, were the only ones remaining, horsing around and singing songs for nearly an hour. Nerses Galstyan then left the room; when he returned he opened fire, Chung said.

The Galstyan brothers left the scene and were arrested in Seattle weeks later. Sam Galstyan was later released; authorities did not have enough evidence to charge him.

Defense attorney Alex Kessel told the jury that the gunfire was in self-defense.

Before the shooting, Kessel said, Yegnanyan felt threatened by Nerses Galstyan. Yegnanyan called friends, Karadjian and Baburyan, who arrived at the restaurant with guns and began to try to intimidate the Galstyan brothers. That led Nerses Galstyan to feel threatened enough to open fire, Kessel argued. Kessel also cast doubt on the accounts of some of the defense’s witnesses. In February 2011, several men had changed their stories, including one man who was being investigated for financial fraud at the time, Kessel said.

“I’m going to try to show you they’re liars,” the defense attorney said. “And I will show that they are still lying.”

The trial resumes Tuesday. If convicted of all counts, Galstyan could face the death penalty.

Contact the Homicide Report. And follow @latimeshomicide on Twitter.

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