Jurors were asked Monday to choose between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter convictions for a teen-ager accused of masterminding the 1992 New Year's Eve slaying of honor student Stuart A. Tay.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lewis R. Rosenblum told the Orange County Superior Court jury that it could disregard the prosecution's entire case and still have enough evidence from Robert Chan's own testimony to prove he is guilty of murdering Tay, 17, of Orange.
Chan insisted that others orchestrated the killing but tripped himself up by admitting that he followed orders during the fatal attack, Rosenblum told the jurors during closing arguments. Accomplices are held equally culpable under the law, the prosecutor told jurors.
"He convicted himself; he was convicted out of his own mouth," the prosecutor told the jury.
"There's no room left for Mr. Chan to weasel out of it. It's over," he later added.
But defense attorney Marshall M. Schulman said Rosenblum's case was weak because it relied heavily on an admitted liar who pleaded guilty to his role in Tay's slaying and agreed to testify against the other teen-agers in exchange for being prosecuted as a juvenile.
The key prosecution witness in Chan's trial was Charles Choe, 18, of Fullerton. Choe, who admitted participating in the slaying but said he did not strike Tay, is expected to be released from the California Youth Authority when he turns 25.
Chan has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. At the time of the slaying, Chan told jurors, he was under the delusion that Tay had rigged his home with explosives and was about to kill him. Under the theory of "imperfect self-defense," jurors should convict Chan of the less serious charge of voluntary manslaughter, Schulman said.
"This is an individual with an extremely troubled mind," Schulman told the jury, which is expected to begin deliberating today. "If Stuart Tay was not eliminated, in (Chan's) mind, Stuart Tay would kill him."
Prosecutors say Chan plotted Tay's death because he feared Tay would double-cross him in a planned computer heist. Tay was lured to a Buena Park back yard and beaten unconscious with baseball bats before rubbing alcohol was forced down his throat.
Chan, once a candidate for class valedictorian, admitted to jurors that he then taped Tay's mouth and nose before burying him in a shallow grave.
Jury selection begins today for three other youths charged in Tay's death: Abraham Acosta, 17, of Buena Park and Mun Bong Kang, 19, and Kirn Young Kim, 18, both of Fullerton.
Chan faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and charges that he used a baseball bat and ambushed Tay, who attended Foothill High School in Santa Ana.
The accused murderers attended Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton. The six teen-agers got together to plan the robbery of an Anaheim computer parts dealer. The scheme began to unravel when Chan learned that Tay was lying about his identify and background.
The defense attorney told jurors that some of the blame for the killing rests with the victim.
Tay allegedly tried to impress his new friends by claiming to be a 19-year-old crime figure with dozens of followers and involvement in illegal activities ranging from counterfeiting to weapon sales and computer pirating.
Chan began to fear Tay, Schulman said. In his feeble mental state, Chan became convinced that Tay had planted bombs in his home and was about to kill him, the defense attorney said.
The victim was "playing with fire and didn't realize it," Schulman said.
"Whether it's true or not doesn't matter," Schulman said of Chan's fear that he was about to be killed. "It's what he believes."
But Rosenblum asked jurors to not be "gullible" and noted that the plot to kill Tay was hatched over many days.
"The issue is not whether or not (Chan) is paranoid schizophrenic, because it doesn't matter," Rosenblum said. "This young man knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way."