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19-Year-Old Investigated in Slayings at Buddhist Site : Killings: Man who is facing extradition to Texas on murder charges is called a possible suspect in nine deaths at a temple near Phoenix.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 19-year-old Southeast Asian immigrant who drifted between California and Texas is under investigation as a possible suspect in the execution-style killings of six Buddhist monks, a nun and two young students in their temple near Phoenix three weeks ago, investigators said Wednesday.

Kim Ly Lim was being held without bail in the Los Angeles County Jail pending a hearing on extradition to Texas, where he is charged with the murders of two Southeast Asians and the attempted murders of two others during the robbery of a home outside Houston three months ago.

Lim was arrested in January in an alleged robbery attempt at an Asian home in Monterey Park, but was released after the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to press felony charges. He was arrested on the Texas murder charges Aug. 16 by Long Beach police.

Lim has not been charged in the Arizona killings. Duane Brady, a spokesman for the Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff said Wednesday that Lim is among a number of “investigatory leads” in the temple killings, but he stopped short of calling Lim a suspect. Brady said there is no evidence that Lim was in Arizona on Aug. 10, when the temple killings occurred.

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But Harris County, Tex., investigators said Wednesday that Lim and two accomplices may have stopped in Phoenix on their way back to Los Angeles after the Texas killings. Interstate 10, the most direct route between Houston and Los Angeles, passes through Phoenix.

Sgt. Bruce Williams of the Harris County homicide bureau said investigators there were struck by the similarities between the Texas killings and a Phoenix jewelry store robbery that occurred five days before the temple killings. Three young Asian men carrying handguns were involved in both the Texas killings and the jewelry store incident, in which two women were threatened but not hurt, authorities said. In both cases, the victims were Asian and their hands were bound with duct tape.

The Texas killings also bore similarities to the temple killings in that the victims were found in a single room, shot in the back of the head at close range.

Williams said Lim has relatives in the Houston area, but “comes and goes” from Southern California.

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Phoenix police investigating the jewelry store incident said Wednesday that they intend to ask the victims whether they can identify Lim as one of three assailants who robbed them of $50,000 to $100,000 in Asian artifacts and jewelry.

The identification would provide an important piece of evidence placing Lim in the Phoenix area around the time of the temple killings.

Maricopa County investigators have not determined a motive in the temple killings, but have said they know of nothing that was stolen from the temple.

The bodies of victims, all immigrants from Thailand, were discovered Aug. 10 side by side and face-down in a room adjoining the temple, in a rural area about 20 miles west of Phoenix. Their positions indicated that they were shot while kneeling or lying in a row, investigators said.

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Accounts of Lim’s origins differed. Maricopa County investigators said he is apparently from Cambodia. However, Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said documents from Lim’s arrest in Monterey Park list his place of birth as Vietnam.

Monterey Park Police Sgt. Orlo Olsen said Lim was arrested Jan. 7 on an attempted robbery charge at a home on Gleason Street after the residents called police. They told police that Lim displayed a revolver and demanded protection money to keep a Long Beach street gang from robbing their house later that night.

Gibbons said the district attorney’s office determined that there was not enough evidence to prosecute Lim for a felony, but it charged him with several related misdemeanors and agreed to a plea arrangement under which Lim was released on two years’ probation.

Long Beach police said Wednesday that they know of no connection between Lim and any of several Asian street gangs in the city.

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Lim was staying with a friend in Long Beach when police received a tip from Houston and arrested him, said Long Beach Police Sgt. Keith Kilmer.

Lim is scheduled to appear in court in Los Angeles on Sept. 3 for a hearing on his extradition, Kilmer said. If convicted of the Texas slayings, he could face the death penalty. Another suspect in those slayings, Thong Dam Loeur, 19, also has been charged with murder in the Texas killings. Loeur and a third unidentified suspect remain at large.

Lim and Loeur were identified by two women who survived the Texas incident. Authorities said they believe the assailants intended to kill the women to eliminate witnesses, but failed.


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