5 charged with murder in California drug lab explosion

STEFANIE DAZIO

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Five men have been charged with murder following a deadly explosion at an illegal drug lab in a Los Angeles in September that killed a man who worked with them, authorities announced Thursday.

For at least two months the defendants and the victim operated a lab in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley, where they extracted the high-inducing chemical THC from cannabis plants to create a highly potent concentrate known as hash oil or honey oil, the Los Angeles district attorney's office said in a statement. The extraction process is dangerous and often involves butane, an odorless gas that easily ignites.

The oil can be used in vape pens, edibles, waxes and other products. Vaping-related illnesses have soared nationwide and many victims reported purchasing illegal THC oils.

The Chatsworth lab exploded Sept. 21 while four of the men and the victim, Dados Aroutiounov, 62, were inside. Aroutiounov's remains, burned beyond recognition, were found the following day under a pile of debris after investigators received information that someone may have been killed in the fire.

Aram Abgaryan, 30, Vadim Klebanov, 59, Arsen Terejyan, 43, Rafael Mailyan, 32, and Stepan Mailyan, 65, were arrested Tuesday and charged with murder and manufacturing a controlled substance, concentrated cannabis. Authorities also seized $3.2 million and gold bars Tuesday from a storage unit connected to the case.

Each faces 23 years to life in prison. They remain in jail on $2 million bail.

It was not immediately clear if the men had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California, said that by charging the men with murder rather than manslaughter, prosecutors will need to establish they acted with malice and a depraved indifference to human life.

"That is sometimes a very hard hurdle to clear," he said. "Sometimes accidental deaths can show the same kind of depravity as an intentional killing."

But jurors who hear that the men were engaged in criminal activity may be willing to find them guilty of murder, Armour said.

He said prosecutors may run into issues because four of the men were exposing themselves to the same dangers as Aroutiounov, but they may be using the higher charge of murder to encourage plea deals.