A jury took less than three hours Tuesday to find a teen-ager guilty of first-degree murder for orchestrating the 1992 New Year’s Eve ambush murder of an Orange County honors student.
Robert Chan, 19, a onetime candidate for class valedictorian, faces life in prison without parole for his role in the killing of Stuart A. Tay of Orange. The 17-year-old was beaten, forced to drink rubbing alcohol and buried in a shallow grave in a Buena Park back yard.
Chan was one of five teen-agers charged in the slaying. Two are awaiting trial, a third has pleaded guilty and, in a surprise move, a fourth pleaded guilty Tuesday. Mun Bong Kang, now 19, admitted guilt because he wanted to spare Tay’s parents the ordeal of another trial, his attorney said.
Jurors agreed with the prosecution’s contention that Chan sealed his conviction when he testified that he knew the killing was wrong, but still joined four other teen-agers in killing Tay.
“I was surprised at how fast the verdict took, but there was really nothing to decide,” said juror Ulla Laing of Huntington Beach. “He got on the witness stand and said he did it and he knew what he was doing. It’s like the prosecutor said--he convicted himself.”
The prosecution alleged that Chan masterminded the murder because he believed Tay was about to double-cross him in a plan to rob an Anaheim computer parts dealer. Tay was lured to a Buena Park garage, where he was beaten unconscious with baseball bats and forced to drink rubbing alcohol before his nose and mouth were sealed with duct tape.
Chan, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, told jurors he assisted in murdering Tay because he believed the teen-ager had rigged Chan’s Fullerton home with explosives and was about to kill him unless stopped.
But one juror, who asked that his name not be used, said the jury easily rejected Chan’s defense.
“Even if we wanted to give him a break, our conscience wouldn’t let us,” the juror said. “He was not (mentally unstable). He knew what he was doing.”
The case gained widespread attention as a symbol of juvenile crime out of control, and because both teen-agers came from seemingly model homes. Chan was a top student at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton and his IQ hovered near genius level. Tay, who attended Foothill High School in Santa Ana, aspired to become a physician like his father.
Tay’s mother, Linda, said she was grateful that the jury saw through Chan’s defense. “I did expect a very early verdict because the facts were clear,” she said. “Even the best carpenter cannot build a house without wood,” she added, referring to the fact that Chan had a prominent Orange County attorney representing him.
Chan’s parents were devastated.
“I just want to say this is a tragedy for everyone,” said Tony Chan, a Fullerton engineer who said his son bears responsibility in the killing but questioned whether he received a fair trial. “I didn’t say he’s innocent, but a lot of things Mr. D.A. says is not correct.”
As jurors began deliberating Chan’s fate Tuesday, Kang pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for assisting in the ambush attack. His parents had urged the plea, said defense attorney Ronald G. Brower, who represents Kang.
“They wanted to do the honorable thing,” Brower said. “They and their son hope this act will in some small way convey their true feelings and the shame they feel. They pray daily for God to ease the suffering of the Tay family.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kathleen E. O’Leary has not set a date for sentencing, at which time she will decide whether Kang, who was a juvenile at the time of the killing, will be sent to state prison or the California Youth Authority.
Jury selection began Tuesday for the remaining two co-defendants: Abraham Acosta, 17, of Buena Park and Kirn Young Kim, 18, of Fullerton. Judge O’Leary dismissed the majority of the prospective jurors, saying she was concerned that information about the verdict would taint their objectivity.