Gang Member Found Guilty in Lawndale Killing
A South Los Angeles gang member was convicted Wednesday of murdering a Hawthorne merchant and robbing him of $80,000 shortly after the man had withdrawn the money from a Lawndale bank.
Torrance Superior Court jurors deliberated less than a day before convicting Omar (Chico) Dent III, 28, of murder with special circumstances for the Aug. 19, 1988, shooting death of liquor store owner Byung Jin Kim. A penalty phase is scheduled to start Tuesday, during which jurors will decide whether Dent should be sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.
In addition to the murder and robbery charges, the seven-man, five-woman jury convicted Dent of kidnaping Kim and of attempted murder and second-degree robbery for shooting August Cardino, 44, a former New Jersey police officer who tried to follow Dent from the murder scene.
Jurors acquitted Dent of additional counts of robbery, kidnaping and assault for an attack on another man outside the same bank a day earlier.
In a taped confession played for the jury during the three-week trial, Dent told sheriff’s investigators that he shot Kim during a daytime robbery outside the California 1st National Bank in Lawndale because he believed the merchant was reaching for a gun.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Bob Martin emphasized in his argument to the jury that the coroner concluded all three bullets fired at Kim through the window of his van entered his body through his lower back.
Even if Dent had killed Kim in self-defense, Martin told jurors, anyone who kills during the commission of a robbery is guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances.
After shooting Kim, witnesses said, Dent shoved the dying man aside, jumped into the driver’s seat of Kim’s van, and drove into a residential Lawndale neighborhood.
When Dent realized that Cardino was following him, Dent approached the good Samaritan, demanded his car keys, and shot him in the shoulder when Cardino took too long to respond.
Cardino lost a portion of his shoulder bone in the attack and his left arm is partially paralyzed, Martin said. The bullet is still lodged behind Cardino’s sternum.
Defense attorneys, who had urged jurors to convict Dent of lesser charges, expressed disappointment with the verdict.
“In a death penalty case, of course, you’re never going to be happy with a finding of guilty,” said attorney William MacCabe, who is handling the case with attorney Ron Rothman. Rothman said Dent was pleased to have been acquitted of the earlier attack.
“Our client felt very strongly about those counts,” Rothman said. “He didn’t do it, and he didn’t think he should be held accountable for it.”