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Prosecuter Rejects Couple’s Charge of Frame in Villa Park Man’s Death

Times Staff Writer

An Orange County prosecutor on Monday rejected defense claims that a couple charged with murdering a Villa Park man had been framed by someone seeking revenge.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas J. Borris dismissed the assertions of defense attorney Alan M. May, who is representing Hoan Ngoc Lai, 47, and Kim Xuan Lai, 37, who are charged with the murder of Quynh Duy Nguyen.

Both husband and wife pleaded innocent Friday in Central Orange County Municipal Court in Santa Ana.

Lured to Motel Room

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Police have said Nguyen was lured to a Santa Ana motel room by the Lais, then murdered. His body was found floating in a Long Beach estuary.

But May has asserted that the Lais were framed because they were caring for the victim’s illegitimate daughter, 5-year-old Kathy Nguyen.

“All this intrigue about revenge and framing these people--I don’t think it’s going to be as complex as Mr. May thinks,” Borris said Monday.

“It’s basically that these people lured this man to this motel room, and once he was inside, they killed him,” the prosecutor said.

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“He died of manual strangulation--somebody strangled him with (his or her) hands,” Borris said.

The body of Nguyen, 53, was found floating in a canal in the Naples area of Long Beach on Nov. 30 by a gondolier plying the waters of the bayside community.

Police have said Nguyen was kidnaped that night from a motel in the 1500 block of Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana and brought to Naples.

Witnesses told detectives that shortly after Nguyen entered the motel room, two men armed with handguns and wearing ski masks went in and later left carrying the victim, Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Chavez said.

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Chavez said that Kim Xuan Lai had been waiting for Nguyen in the motel room.

Santa Ana police, who are investigating the case, said last week they believe that Nguyen may have been killed in revenge for having had an affair with Kim Xuan Lai.

Borris declined Monday to speculate on a motive for the crime.

May could not be reached for comment Monday. But his private investigator, William L. Cassidy, said police were “absolutely wrong” in their theories about Nguyen’s relationship with Kim Xuan Lai.

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“There’s been some reckless speculation in the press emanating about this alleged affair between Mrs. Lai and the victim, and that’s just absolutely wrong,” Cassidy said Monday.

‘Not a Cloud’

“There were amicable and profitable business dealings between (Nguyen and the Lais),” Cassidy said. “There was not a cloud on the horizon in their relationships.”

Cassidy said that police officers’ unfamiliarity with the Southeast Asian community had confused detectives: “I’m sure the police are doing their best, but this is a Southeast Asian case. And unless you work Southeast Asian cases on a full-time basis to the exclusion of everything else, it’s hard to maintain continuity on it.”

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The private investigator said May’s law firm deals primarily with those of Southeast Asian ancestry.

The Lais are being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bond. A bail hearing has been scheduled Friday, officials said.

Police had also arrested Kim Xuan Lai’s brother, Peter Nguyen, 33, and her 17-year-old son in the case. Nguyen and the son, whose name was withheld because of his age, were released Friday for lack of evidence.

Cassidy said that the Lais immigrated to the United States in 1978 and that Hoan Ngoc Lai was a surgeon in his native country. At present, Cassidy said, Lai is in the insurance business.

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Borris said that both Kim Xuan Lai and the victim worked for attorneys in the Vietnamese community and that they “assisted people that were involved in traffic accidents or personal injury-type lawsuits in finding their attorneys.”


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