BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Suspects in what is believed to be a murder-for-hire plot will be in court this week for their arraignment hearings.
Four men, including victim Tahereh Ghassemi's ex-husband, face murder, kidnapping and arson charges. The district attorney said the death penalty may be on the table for three of the suspects. One of them is excluded since he was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.
The arraignment hearing for Tahereh's ex-husband happened at 9 a.m. Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty in open court and motions were set for December 15.
The other suspects in the murder-for-hire plot will be arraigned either Thursday or Friday.
The body of Taherah Ghassemi, 54, of Baton Rouge, was found in the woods in St. Helena Parish. Prosecutors believe her ex-husband, Hamid Ghassemi, 64, hired three men to kill her. Hamid Ghassemi is charged with first-degree murder, principal to first-degree murder, principal to second-degree kidnapping, solicitation for murder and principal to arson.
Daniel Richter, 33, of Walker; Tyler Ashpaugh, 20, of Denham Springs; and Skyler Williams, 17, of Denham Springs, are all charged with first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and arson.
Taherah Ghassemi was kidnapped on April 11, 2015. The next day, her car was found on fire and empty on Chalma Avenue near Choctaw Drive. Investigators determined it had been intentionally torched. Her body was found on May 16. It was buried in a wooded area in St. Helena Parish. The coroner reported Taherah Ghassemi died from a gunshot wound to the head.
According to cell phone and cell tower records gathered by deputies with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, Hamid Ghassemi received a phone call from Ashpaugh at 12:45 a.m. on April 12. Officials said cell phone records for Ashpaugh placed him at the victim's home the night of the disappearance and later at the place where her car was burned. According to investigators, the records place him at her burial site as well.
Detectives arrested Ashpaugh and Williams at their homes on May 17. During questioning, the suspects reportedly told investigators they abducted the victim and put her in the trunk of her own vehicle. The suspects also reportedly told detectives that after the murder, Hamid Ghassemi gave them a can of gasoline to use to burn his ex-wife's car. Deputies said the suspects told them Hamid Ghassemi paid them $10,000 total to carry out the murder.
Detectives spotted an SUV on surveillance video on Millwood Drive a few blocks from Taherah Ghassemi's home during the time investigators believe she went missing. Ashpaugh reportedly told detectives the men were in a black Chevrolet Tahoe and returned it to Hamid Ghassemi at his car dealership on Airline Highway.
Court records show Taherah and Hamid Ghassemi had recently divorced. Their son said the divorce was a difficult ordeal that lasted many years. Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said Hamid Ghassemi owed his ex-wife more than $1 million and two homes as part of the divorce settlement.