Family members of a 5-year-old South Pasadena boy whose remains were found last month in Santa Barbara County broke down in tears Tuesday as the child's father pleaded guilty to murder at an emotional court hearing.
Aramazd Andressian Sr., 35, was charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Aramazd "Piqui" Andressian Jr., who was reported missing after an April trip to Disneyland with his father. Months after claiming his innocence, Andressian changed his plea to guilty Tuesday in front of a judge.
Andressian and estranged wife Ana Estevez were in the midst of a divorce and custody battle over Andressian Jr., and authorities said the killing was his way of getting back at his wife.
"It was Mr. Andressian when he was brought back from Las Vegas that gave the officers the information to where his son was buried," said his attorney, Ambrosio Rodriguez.
Estevez, carrying an urn with her son's ashes, was in court for the brief hearing. Family members could be heard sobbing as Andressian answered the judge, who repeatedly asked him to confirm that he was changing his plea from not guilty.
Andressian faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 23.
As Andressian left the courtroom, he turned for one last glance at the boy’s mother and her family.
Speaking outside the courthouse after the plea, Andressian's attorney said his client took responsibility for what he did. Andressian might speak at his sentencing, he added.
The disappearance of young Ara set off a widespread search that involved dozens of volunteers around Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. The boy's remains were found June 30 near the Lake Cachuma Recreation Area in Santa Barbara County, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Investigators believe the boy was killed April 21 after the trip to Disneyland. Surveillance footage captured Andressian Sr. and Andressian Jr. leaving the park around 1 a.m. The following day, the youngster's father was found unconscious at Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena, unable to recall the whereabouts of his son.
As searchers fanned out across Southern California looking for his son, Andressian traveled to Las Vegas, where he was arrested in late June and brought back to Los Angeles.
The investigation into the boy's disappearance included several weeks of surveillance, during which the suspect "significantly" changed his appearance, acted in a manner inconsistent with the behavior of a grieving parent and appeared to be planning to flee to a country from which he could not be extradited, according to sheriff's depatment officials.
Andressian Sr. was originally arrested in Los Angeles County shortly after his son went missing, but was later released for lack of evidence.
Investigators contend that the boy's father killed him to get back at his estranged wife. The couple were in a year-long bitter custody and divorce case.
Authorities haven't disclosed how the boy was killed or what evidence links the boy's father to his death.