Man Charged in Deaths of Wife, Mother-in-Law

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Ana man has been charged with murder and arson after allegedly confessing to killing his estranged wife and her mother in a jealous rage and then setting their Anaheim home on fire.

Tuan Ngoc Le, 32, also faces a special circumstance allegation of multiple murder, meaning he could face the death penalty if convicted of fatally stabbing Loi Thanh Phan, 30, and her mother, Sao Thi Nguyen, 69.

Le's arraignment was postponed Friday until Aug. 12. He is being held without bail in the Orange County Men's Jail.

Le's court-appointed attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.

According to relatives, Le had a history of abusing his estranged wife and had repeatedly threatened to kill her. He told Orange County sheriff's deputies he killed the women after learning that his wife was car-pooling to work with a man, said Sgt. Randy Benicky.

He told deputies he went to the home Wednesday morning to confront her and used a knife to attack her, Benicky said.

But relatives question whether Le had planned the attack. They say Le knew that the man who was taking Phan to work was a relative and there was no reason to be jealous. They also say Le's pride was hurt when Phan had found a good-paying job with an Anaheim electronics firm, while he had to borrow money to make his rent.

The couple had recently emigrated from Vietnam with their 4-year-old daughter. They were experiencing marital problems but were together over the July 4 holiday weekend and were discussing getting back together shortly before the slayings took place, relatives said.

A neighbor who ran to the house when he saw smoke billowing out a window said he found Le washing his hands and a knife in the kitchen. The bodies were found in the living room, where Le allegedly set the carpet and a lawn mower on fire.

Phan's eldest sister, Lien Thi Phan, 46, suffered smoke inhalation and burns to her feet.

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