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Teen Mastermind in Tay Murder Gets Life Prison Term : Courts: Judge precludes parole after pleas from Chan’s and victim’s parents. She calls case ‘a tragedy for society.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The teen-age mastermind of one of Orange County’s most unsettling murders was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the slaying of a 17-year-old honors student.

Robert Chan, 19, a onetime high school valedictorian candidate, sat impassively as the judge handed down the sentence for the 1992 New Year’s Eve killing of Stuart A. Tay of Orange.

Chan was one of five Orange County teen-agers convicted of beating Tay with baseball bats and a sledgehammer, pouring rubbing alcohol down his throat and leaving him to die, bound and gagged, in a shallow back-yard grave in Buena Park.

Before the sentencing, both Chan’s and Tay’s parents made emotional pleas to Orange County Superior Court Judge Kathleen E. O’Leary. Their comments conveyed to a packed courtroom the travesty and heartbreak of a crime that involved academically ambitious teen-agers from supportive, loving families.

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“It’s a big tragedy for all the families in this case,” said Tony Chan, who begged the judge to show his son mercy. “It’s just like living in hell 24 hours a day. . . . We love Robert very much. He means the entire world to us. There is no meaning to life without Robert.”

The victim’s parents, Alfred and Linda Tay, pleaded that no leniency be given.

“Robert Chan is a cruel and diabolical killer,” Linda Tay said through sobs. “He is evil incarnate. The fact that he is so intelligent and yet so coldblooded is frightening. Life without parole is the least he deserves. He never should be given another chance to inflict this type of pain.”

Alfred Tay said his family has been ruined by the ordeal. “Nothing can change the fact that our family will forever be incomplete,” he said.

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Prosecutors alleged that Chan orchestrated Tay’s murder with four other teen-agers because they believed Tay was about to double-cross them in a plan to rob an Anaheim computer parts dealer. The plan fell apart, prosecutors said, when Chan discovered that Tay was lying to him about his name, age and background and feared that Tay was a police informant.

Chan and the other boys lured Tay to a Buena Park garage on New Year’s Eve, 1992, by telling him he could buy a gun to use in the robbery. When Tay went to examine the weapon, he was attacked.

Prosecutors alleged that Tay was beaten for 20 minutes during the rehearsed attack. He begged for his life before the alcohol was poured down his throat and he was gagged, prosecutors said.

Judge O’Leary, who has been involved with the case for the past 18 months, said she found it impossible to reconcile the backgrounds of the youths with the robbery they were plotting to commit.

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“It is inexplicable to me that Mr. Chan, given the love and support of his family, and Mr. Tay, given the love and support of his family, would ever have come together to plan a residential robbery . . . or how Mr. Chan and Mr. Tay could meet on the night of Stuart Tay’s death to discuss the purchase of a firearm,” O’Leary said.

“I think this case is not only tragic for these families, but it’s also a tragedy for society. I think there are a lot of families, and a lot of parents who are wondering how this could happen,” she added.

The case received wide attention from the media because of the seeming incongruity of bright teen-agers from stable homes involved in a vicious homicide.

Chan was a top student at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton and his IQ hovered near the genius level. Tay, who attended Foothill High School in Santa Ana, was an honors student who planned to go to an Ivy League school and become a doctor like his father.

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Both teen-agers, though, seemed attracted to crime and danger. Tay apparently bragged of having underworld connections with dozens of followers working for him, while Chan boasted of his links with an Asian gang.

It was their bravado that landed them in trouble.

Chan admitted his involvement in Tay’s murder but testified at trial that he believed Tay was a powerful crime figure who would kill him if he backed out of the robbery plot.

Chan denied masterminding the murder, as the four other defendants contended. A jury deliberated less than three hours before convicting him of first-degree murder May 3.

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Two other defendants, Charles Choe, 18, of Fullerton, and Mun Bong Kang, 19 of Fullerton, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The other two defendants, Abraham Acosta, 17, of Buena Park, and Kirn Young Kim, 18, of Fullerton, were convicted of first-degree murder July 1 in a separate trial and are awaiting sentencing.

The key witness for the prosecution was Choe, who admitted participating in the murder but said he did not strike Tay. Because he cooperated with prosecutors, he was sentenced to a California Youth Authority facility and is expected to be released when he turns 25.

Kim, Acosta and Kang are scheduled to be sentenced after a review by the California Youth Authority to evaluate whether they should be locked up in prison with adults or with juveniles.

Prior to Monday’s sentencing, Chan’s attorney Marshall M. Schulman petitioned the court for a new trial and a reduced sentence. O’Leary denied the new trial motion and said the murder conviction with the special allegation of lying in wait compelled her to give Chan a prison sentence of life without parole.

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In a pre-sentencing report, Chan wrote to the court and the Tay family to explain what had happened and express his remorse for the crime.

He said his outlook on life devolved shortly after he read “The Stranger” by French author Albert Camus, which discusses existentialist philosophy. Chan wrote that he interpreted the novel as saying “everything was meaningless and nothing matters because we are all going to die.”

Chan said he stopped caring about his schoolwork and personal hygiene and found it difficult to concentrate. Also, he said, he started hearing voices quoting lines from “The Twilight Zone.”

“In retrospect, it is nearly impossible for me to fathom the fact that I degenerated from a hard-working student and good citizen to a deranged individual who took another human being’s life,” he wrote to the judge.

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In a three-page letter to the Tay family, Chan wrote: “I shudder when I try to imagine how you must feel. I know your pain is infinitely worse. I know now, all too late, that not only have I destroyed one life, I have destroyed many.”

The grief of both Chan’s and Tay’s parents was evident during the two-hour court hearing.

Tony Chan, who sat with his wife, said he was “responsible” for the crime because he did not have his son visit a psychiatrist sooner than he did. “We love him more than our own lives,” he said. “We will never abandon him.”

In an eloquent, prepared statement, Linda Tay spoke of the “gaping hole” in her life since her son was killed. She said her son enjoyed the cars, computers, clothes and many other things that teen-age boys are interested in. He was “filled with curiosity” and “everything was special and exciting to him,” she said. “He had so much to live for. . . . We miss him very much.”

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