Trial begins for alleged mastermind behind brazen Orange County jail escape in 2016

Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Trial begins for alleged mastermind behind brazen OC jailbreak in 2016
A 44-year-old man masterminded a daring escape from Orange County Jail seven years ago and held a cab driver against his will, a prosecutor told jurors.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- A 44-year-old man masterminded a daring escape from Orange County Jail seven years ago and held a cab driver against his will for about a week as the escapees remained at-large in a stolen van, a prosecutor told jurors Monday, while the defendant's attorney admitted his client escaped but insisted the driver went along willingly.

Hossein Nayeri, 44, is charged with escaping custody, car theft and kidnapping for carjacking, all felonies. A charge of kidnapping to commit robbery was dismissed, according to court records.

In January of 2016, there was a statewide manhunt for three missing inmates, who cut through steel bars and plumbing to escape.

Nayeri is one of three inmates to escape from Orange County Jail and the second to go to trial.

In 2021, one of his fellow escaped inmates, Bac Duong, was convicted of the escape and kidnapping charges. Co-defendant Jonathan Tieu, 27, is awaiting trial.

On Monday, prosecutors asserted Nayeri was the mastermind.

"This wasn't something that just happened," prosecutor David McMurrin said to the jury. "You'll learn that the defendant, Mr. Hossein Nayeri, planned this for seven and a half months."

The defense is not fighting the allegation that he escaped, as it was widely reported and admitted.

"He's accepted that responsibility publicly, and is willing to accept the consequences for that action," defense attorney Michael Goldfeder said.

The three had help in their jailbreak.

Duong wrote a list of items and a map on paper, according to his then-friend Loc Nguyen, who testified Monday.

Nguyen said Duong showed it to him during a jail visit.

"It was instruction, what I needed to bring," Nguyen said. "And then a small sketch of a map where should I go."

Nguyen also picked them up once they successfully fled and later pleaded guilty to his role.

After Nguyen dropped the three off at another location, they were picked up by a private taxi driver, which is where the kidnapping allegation comes in.

That taxi driver was with them for days, prosecutors say, and had his car and identification used as a cover against his will.

"They tell him, 'Give me your phone and your wallet.' He gives his phone and his wallet to Mr. Nayeri, gets in the back of the car. He's no longer the driver," McMurrin said.

The defense showed a photo of the driver smiling, painting a very different picture.

"Mr. Ma is a willing, consenting participant to drive these individuals around," Goldfeder said.

At some point while on the run the inmates also took a white van, which is the count related to the vehicle. The question is, what role did Nayeri play in that, if any.

His attorney argues he didn't, and that he wasn't even there.

Nayeri was in custody at the time awaiting trial for the sexual mutilation of a marijuana dispensary owner in a kidnapping-extortion scheme. Nayeri was convicted in that case in August of 2019 and was sentenced in October 2020 to life in prison without parole.

City News Service contributed to this report.