Jury Convicts Youth of Killing German Tourist : Crime: Woman’s husband, who was wounded in the attack near Idyllwild, identified teen-ager as the triggerman. Two co-defendants also are charged.
A soft-faced teen-ager who previously was identified by a German tourist as “the swine” who murdered his wife and left him for dead at a scenic mountain viewpoint was convicted Monday of first-degree murder, attempted murder and robbery.
The jury deliberated less than two days before returning the verdicts against Thongxay Nilakout, 18. He is one of three defendants in the May 16, 1994, shooting near Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains that left Gisela Pfleger dead and her husband, Klaus, seriously injured.
Because the murder occurred during a robbery, Nilakout faces life in prison without parole. Because he was 17 at the time, he did not face the death penalty.
The couple from Emmerich, Germany, were visiting their daughter in Redondo Beach and went sightseeing in the mountains above Hemet. They were accosted after stopping along California 243 to take pictures of spring flowers.
Gisela Pfleger, 62, was shot in the head as she struggled to keep her handbag, which contained $295. Klaus Pfleger was shot in the face and back but managed to drive for help.
The unprovoked attack occurred at a time when the murders of other foreign tourists in the United States sparked international concern about gratuitous violence in this country. But authorities noted at the time there was no reason to believe that the couple were specifically targeted because they were foreigners; their vehicle had no identification decals indicating that it was a rental car. Investigators said the motive for the shooting was robbery.
During the trial, Klaus Pfleger--who lives in Germany but returned here to provide the trial’s most emotional testimony--pointed tensely at Nilakout and described him, in German, as “ schwein " and as “this horrible pig” who shot him and his wife.
Pfleger, 63, was in Palm Springs on Monday, where he faces continuing reconstructive surgery on his jaw.
During closing arguments, Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Bentley noted that the defendant had confessed to the crime during a taped interview with investigators. But defense attorney Stuart Holmes argued that much of that interview was inaudible and contended that Pfleger had some difficulty identifying his client in a police lineup.
Jury foreman Gordon Kent Alexander said jurors had little difficulty convicting Nilakout, who was identified by prosecutors as the triggerman.
“When you shoot someone three times and someone else two times in the head, including one at point-blank range, it was a pretty brutal murder in our eyes,” Alexander said.
Nilakout’s trial was consolidated with that of a second defendant, Khamchan Bret Ketsouvannasane, 20, and a separate jury hearing his case began deliberations Monday. Pfleger also had identified Ketsouvannasane in the courtroom as the other assailant.
The trial of the third defendant, Xou Yang, 20--who allegedly supplied the .380-caliber handgun and drove the getaway car but was not seen by Pfleger--will follow separately, because the courtroom could not accommodate three juries.
During the trial, Pfleger said that not an evening has gone by in which he did not see the assailants--or his wife--in his dreams.
The two men approached them without saying a word, Pfleger testified; as Ketsouvannasane tried to grab his wife’s handbag, Nilakout shot the tourist twice in the face and once in the back. He looked up, Pfleger said, to see Nilakout approach his wife, shooting her twice in the head.
Pfleger said he struggled back to his car and drove to the parking lot at Lake Fulmor where, unable to speak, he wrote a note identifying himself as German and made enough sense to direct help to his wife, who already was dead.
The three defendants live in Banning. Investigators said tips from members of the Hmong community from Laos there led authorities to the three, who were arrested within days of the shooting.