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Opening statements got underway Friday morning in the trial of Blake Leibel, the Toronto-born director and graphic novelist who is accused of murdering his girlfriend Olga Kasian in their West Hollywood apartment in spring 2016.
The jury, made up of eight men and six women (including two alternates), listened quietly as Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Tannaz Mokayef laid out the prosecution’s case, speaking for more than an hour.
“This case reads like a movie script,” Mokayef told jurors. “It’s just more like a horror movie. It’s a tale of a gruesome and sadistic crime, a tale of a planned and calculated murder, a tortured murder.”
Leibel, with a mop of brown hair and wearing a dark suit, appears to have gained considerable weight since his arrest on the morning of May 26 in the third-floor condominium where he lived with Kasian. The clean-shaven Leibel leaned over now and again to whisper something to his attorney, Haydeh Takasugi, a public defender.
Police found Leibel and Kasian in the apartment they shared three weeks after Kasian had given birth to their daughter, Diana. Kasian’s body had been severely mutilated, according to official reports. She had been scalped and her body had been drained of blood. Mokayef showed pictures indicating that blood and body parts had been left strewn around the master bedroom where Kasian was found, and that several doors within the apartment had been barricaded with mattresses and other objects, hindering police access.
“The evidence will show you it’s not just a murder,” said Mokayef. “You’ll hear about a prolonged attack. The facts will show you that Leibel’s girlfriend and baby’s mother, the victim, suffered a painful death, mutilated, scalped. And she was alive for the better part of the mutilation and mayhem.”
From the beginning, Mokayef drew parallels between the murder and the graphic novel Syndrome, which Leibel co-wrote. That story details a fictional plan to scientifically heal a psychopathic killer, one of whose crimes include a brutal murder that features some of the same elements as the real-life crime for which Leibel is being tried.
“He followed a script for a book that he authored called Syndrome,” Mokayef told jurors. “It’s a graphic novel where his crime against Iana is detailed. You’ll hear from a co-author that will tell you that the concept of draining blood was thought up by this defendant and written about by this person.”
Mokayef produced evidence from forensic experts that allegedly establishes that Leibel and Kasian were in the apartment before and after Kasian’s body was found by tracing their cellphone locations.
Kasian’s mother, Olga, wearing black, watched the proceedings while sitting just behind the deputy DA, where she was flanked by friends and two Russian-language interpreters. At one point, when Mokayef showed police photos of Kasian’s body, the mother gasped and buried her head in her hands. Mokayef told jurors how, in the days leading up to the body’s discovery, an increasingly worried Olga reached out to the police, which tried to perform a “welfare check” on Leibel’s apartment but failed to gain entry.
Also in the audience was Jeremy Tenser, a friend of Leibel’s from Toronto and the writer’s former entertainment attorney.
Mokayef also showed pictures allegedly indicating that Leibel had some “defensive” marks on his face when he left the apartment briefly, several hours before police finally broke down the doors and entered.
Inside, police reported that they found a lifeless Kasian lying naked on a bloody mattress, covered by a red Mickey Mouse blanket. Her ear and half her scalp had been shorn off. “There’s blood everywhere,” said Mokayef. “Whether it be blood that he tried to clean up or didn’t have time to clean up, there’s blood everywhere.”
Leibel faces first-degree murder charges with special circumstances for torture and mayhem. If convicted, he could face life in prison. The death penalty was taken off the table early in the proceedings.
The trial is expected to last a couple of weeks.
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