A Taiwanese national charged as an accessory in the fatal shootings last winter of two federal drug agents and the wounding of a third in Pasadena was the designated getaway driver in the crime and had ski masks, handcuffs and a bullet clip in his car when he was arrested, a prosecutor asserted Wednesday.
In his opening arguments in the murder conspiracy trial of Michael Su Chia, 21, of Alhambra, Assistant U.S. Atty. Steven Clymer told a Pasadena Superior Court jury that Chia had conducted “counter-surveillance” on Feb. 5 for three men who, less than an hour later, robbed the undercover agents of $80,000 and opened fire on them in their parked car on South Marengo Avenue.
Chia, Clymer contended, was supposed to be at the scene of the planned drug robbery on a quiet residential street, but had become separated from his compatriots in traffic.
In his own opening argument, Chia’s defense attorney, Brian O’Neill, discounted the prosecution’s version of what occurred, saying that agents had in the weeks after the shootings significantly altered written statements they had given to FBI agents in an attempt to build a case against Chia.
“Agents will lie in this case,” O’Neill told the jury. An agent O’Neill described as in charge of the undercover operation “changed what he said he observed and then influenced others to change their stories,” O’Neill said.
Neither side puts Chia at the scene of the fatal shootings of Paul Seema and George Montoya, both undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents. The two men, as part of an investigation of a Thai drug ring, were trying to buy two pounds of heroin from a man later identified as Frank Kow. Another agent, Jose Martinez, was shot in the legs during the robbery, but survived. Officials have said the men intended to rob the DEA agents all along, but had no idea they were law enforcement officers.
After a high-speed chase and a fierce gunfight, back-up agents for Seema, Montoya and Martinez shot and killed Kow and one of his alleged accomplices. A second alleged accomplice, 18-year-old William Wang, has been charged with shooting Seema and Martinez. Wang was shot eight times. He is awaiting trial.
The prosecution’s strategy appears to be to show that Chia was a willing and full participant in a conspiracy to rob, if not kill, the agents.
In his opening argument, prosecutor Clymer contended that Chia was present when a weapon used in the crime was delivered to Kow and was seen talking to Kow and Wang in a restaurant parking lot where the men had arranged to meet the undercover agents.
Chia and two other Taiwanese nationals were arrested in Chia’s black Mitsubishi two hours after the drug agents were shot.
O’Neill did not mention the handcuffs, masks and bullets that were confiscated when Chia was arrested.
He portrayed Chia as a good friend of Kow’s who was at the restaurant parking lot trying to dissuade Kow from going through with the planned robbery.
Chia’s trial is expected to last from three weeks to a month.
He is charged with aiding and abetting Wang, conspiring to kill the two dead agents and wound Martinez and conspiring to plan the robbery of the agents.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against Wang, but not against Chia.