Tuesday, March 18, 2008
C.A. Upholds Conviction in Alhambra Drive-By Shooting
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has affirmed the first degree murder conviction and sentence imposed on a gang member for a drive-by shooting that ended the life of a woman standing in front of an Alhambra fast-food restaurant.
Div. Three Friday rejected several claims of trial and sentencing error by counsel for Dat Thanh Nguyen, who was sentenced by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Janice C. Croft to 100 years to life in prison for the murder and two consecutive life terms with the possibility of parole for the attempted premeditated murder of two other people.
The murder sentence included enhancements for use of a firearm by a principal and for committing the crimes on behalf of a criminal street gang.
Prosecutors said Nguyen shot and killed Jasmine Ling, an innocent bystander, as she was entering the Tapioca Express on Nov. 5, 2004. Police said Nguyen was a member of the Van Nuys Asian Boyz gang, and was apparently shooting at two other people, one of whom may have been a member of the rival Chinatown Boys.
A witness testified that she was stopped at a red light when she heard several shots and saw the vehicle from which they were apparently fired, a white Honda whose license number she gave to police.
The vehicle belonged to Nguyen’s then-girlfriend, who testified that she loaned him the car, but initially lied to police at the defendant’s request and told them the car had been stolen. The defendant told her he had been involved in the shooting, she said.
She pled guilty to being an accessory and filing a false police report, about a month before Nguyen’s trial.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that calls had been made from the defendant’s cell phone at about the time of, and from the vicinity of, the shooting, and that numerous calls had been made from that phone in the ensuing hours. An Alhambra detective told the jury that when arrested, the defendant said “You got me.”
Nguyen testified that he was at home at the time of the murders. He admitted having driven his girlfriend’s car earlier in the day but had loaned it to a fellow gang member and had left his phone inside it. He said he asked his girlfriend to report the car stolen because he thought it had been involved in a hit-and-run accident and he was afraid of being held liable.
A police officer, Santh Yin, testified on rebuttal that he had befriended Nguyen while working undercover at the high school Nguyen attended before being expelled for trying to sell him marijuana. Yin said Nguyen told him about gang activities, including an attempted shooting for hire; tried to recruit him to join; and explained the gang’s initiation process, which included assaulting an initiate and then choking him to the point of passing out.
On appeal, the defense argued that the prosecution should not have been allowed to cross-examine Nguyen regarding his conversations with Yin. But Justice Patti Kitching, in an unpublished opinion for Div. Three, said that by offering an alibi defense that minimized his involvement in the gang, Nguyen opened himself up to cross-examination with regard to the extent of his gang membership.
Nor was Yin’s testimony about Nguyen’s gang membership and related prior bad acts unduly prejudicial, the justice concluded, since it was relevant to show that his alibi; his explanation for why the car was stripped, abandoned, and reported stolen; and his denial of knowledge as to who was using his cell phone that night were fabricated.
Kitching went on to say that there was sufficient evidence to support the sentence enhancement for acting on behalf of a criminal street gang.
The defense contended that prosecutors failed to show that the “primary activities” of the Van Nuys Asian Boyz included crimes involving violence, guns or drugs, or that the shooting was committed with the specific intent to aid the gang. Kitching, however, said the direct evidence regarding the shooting, as well as the testimony of the prosecution’s expert on Asian gangs, satisfied the evidentiary requirements.
The case is People v. Nguyen, B190455.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company