Advertisement

O.C. Supremacist Gets Death Penalty for Racial Murder

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

White supremacist Gunner Lindberg on Friday became the first person in California to be sentenced to death because of a murder committed out of racial hatred.

Before pronouncing sentence in the unprecedented case, Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald sought to dispel any lingering doubts that the convicted 22-year-old murderer deserved to die.

Reading from a graphic and chilling letter Lindberg had written to an out-of-state relative, the judge recounted how Lindberg boasted of stabbing, slashing the throat and stomping the skull of victim Thien Minh Ly on Super Bowl Sunday in January 1996.

Advertisement

Ly, a graduate of both UCLA and Georgetown University who had dreamed of one day becoming the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, was in-line skating on a high school’s tennis court when he was accosted by Lindberg and a companion.

The letter, which Lindberg sent to a cousin in Missouri, begins almost nonchalantly. “Oh, I killed a Jap a while ago. I stabbed him to death at Tustin High School. . . .

“I walked right up to him and he was scared. I looked at him and said, ‘Oh, I thought I knew you,’ and he got happy that he wasn’t gonna get jumped, then I hit him.”

“I stabbed him in the side about seven or eight times. He rolled over a little, so I stabbed his back 18 or 19 times. Then he lay flat and I slit . . . his throat on his jugular vein.”

Lindberg, sporting a shaved head and goatee, displayed no emotion as the judge read from the letter and then sentenced him to die. He offered no explanation or words of remorse to the victim’s family, who during emotional pre-sentence testimony referred to him as “the monster” who took away their 24-year-old son and brother.

“Every single day since he was brutally murdered, we have been living in a nightmare,” said the victim’s 24-year-old sister, Thu Ly. “The unimaginable pain and devastation is beyond words.”

Advertisement

Although it has been nearly two years since the murder of the Vietnamese American honor student, his family’s grief is still palpable.

“I miss him every minute,” sobbed Dao Huynh, the victim’s 48-year-old mother, as she left the courthouse. “It’s difficult to live. I want to die with him. Before I sleep I think of him. When I eat, I miss him. I can’t believe he died.”

*

During his trial, prosecutors convincingly argued that Lindberg chose Ly to knife and rob based on the color of his skin. He was stabbed more than 50 times, including 14 wounds to the heart.

Under California law, a convicted murderer may be sentenced to death only if the murder was committed in one or more of 21 “special circumstances” spelled out in state law. In Lindberg’s case, the jury agreed that “the victim was intentionally killed because of his or her race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin” as the so-called hate crime special circumstance is defined.

It was the rambling, four-page letter that led police to make an arrest in the case. It was filled with details about the Ly murder that police said revealed knowledge that only the killer could possess.

The victim’s younger brother, 21-year-old Thai Ly, said he “could recite the letter verbatim” and both he and his sister have returned to the tennis court where their brother died to try and imagine his final horrific moments.

Advertisement

A jury of nine women and three men recommended the death penalty for Lindberg in October after quickly convicting him of first-degree murder with the “special circumstance” allegations that the killing was a hate crime and also took place during the commission of a robbery.

The state attorney general’s office confirmed Friday that this was the first time that a hate crime special circumstance had led to the death penalty.

“There’s nobody else on death row with that circumstance,” said Dane Gillette, senior assistant attorney general.

Judge Fitzgerald said Lindberg’s crime showed a “high degree of cruelty, callousness and viciousness” and said that he did not believe the defendant’s young age--he was 20 at the time of the murder--should be a factor in determining his punishment.

While Ly’s family strongly urged execution for Lindberg, they said their reasons were more for the safety of society than for their own peace of mind.

“I’m happy the case is over and happy no innocent person will be hurt by him,” the victim’s mother said.

Advertisement

Ly was “the backbone and the pillar” of his family and an older sibling who “paved the way” for his sister and brother to excel academically, his sister said.

“His life was so bright and his future was so promising,” Thu Ly said. “However, that all ended on that dark and miserable Super Bowl Sunday when the monster that is sitting in this room viciously took him away from us.”

Prosecutor Debbie Lloyd said the family’s grief “breaks everyone’s heart.”

“To take away someone who was so close to them, it’s hard for them to function, hard to accept and hard to move on with life,” she said.

Lloyd, a veteran prosecutor, said she is still taken aback by the brutal nature of the murder and the killer’s lack of remorse.

“It’s hard to believe that in real life, such a person exists who is willing to do what Lindberg did,” Lloyd said. “It’s almost like fiction.”

*

Lloyd said there is “no question” that Lindberg should be executed because “I don’t believe his hate is going to go away,” she said.

Advertisement

The prosecutor specifically cited the faded blue and white Dallas Cowboys jersey that Lindberg wore each day of his trial. It was later learned that he was wearing the shirt the day he killed Ly.

“Wearing the shirt to court, that’s even worse than having no remorse,” Lloyd said. “It’s almost like he’s reveling in the fact that he’s done something bad. It goes beyond no remorse. That’s pouring more salt on the wounds of this family. I guess that’s just who he is.”

Two jurors returned to the courtroom Friday to watch the formal sentencing and to offer supportive words to Ly’s family.

One of the women, who spoke on the condition that she not be identified, said it had frightened her to be a part of such a violent and emotional case and she needed some closure.

“It was hard for all of us,” she said. “The letter is really what did it for all of us. It was like a true confession and it helped for me to hear that it was something the judge felt strongly about too.”

The juror said that she did feel some compassion for Lindberg during the four-week trial and was disappointed that she was not told more about his background. But she said she found it unsettling when he walked into the courtroom Friday with a shaved head and to learn why he had been wearing the football jersey to court each day.

Advertisement

“He really showed us who he was,” she said. “He was saying, ‘Here I am, I’m a skinhead.’ ”

*

The trial brought to light a string of violent acts committed by Lindberg dating back to when he was 13 years old. A series of witnesses took the stand during the trial’s penalty phase to describe other acts of violence committed by Lindberg.

The defendant’s companion at the time of the murder, 18-year-old Domenic Christopher, was convicted of first-degree murder last April for his role in the killing, and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Christopher was present during the murder, cheering Lindberg on as he stabbed Ly. The prosecution said he helped trap the victim, then kicked him in the head as he took his final breaths.

Lindberg and Christopher made up two-thirds of a white supremacist gang who called themselves the Insane Criminal Posse, which also included Lindberg’s cousin, Walter Ray Dulaney, the recipient of the letter who testified against him at the trial.

Dulaney said Lindberg had told him that killing Ly was “better than a drug” and was done on behalf of a “racial movement.”

Lindberg and Christopher were stock clerks at a Tustin store, but Lindberg had only moved here a few months before he murdered Ly.

Advertisement

Police said he drifted about the country trying to start up chapters of his white supremacist group, but would invariably get into trouble with the law and have to move on after a short time. He was wanted by police in Missouri for aggravated assault when he was arrested for the killing.

* DEATH ROW ROSTER

The other 36 men and one woman on San Quentin’s death row sentenced in O.C. A24

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

O.C.’s Death Row Inmates

Gunner Lindberg, 24, was sentenced to death Friday for the murder of Thien Minh Ly. Lindberg joins the other 36 men and one woman sentenced in Orange County Superior Court who are on San Quentin’s death row. They are:

* John Clyde Abel, 53, convicted in the Jan. 4, 1991, killing of Armando Miller, 26, of Tustin during a robbery. Sentenced Sept. 26, 1997.

* Rodney James Alcala, 54, convicted in the June 20, 1979, murder of Robin Samsoe, 12, of Huntington Beach. Sentenced June 20, 1986, in a death penalty retrial.

* Maria Alfaro, 26, convicted of stabbing 9-year-old Autumn Wallace of Anaheim 55 times June 15, 1990. Sentenced July 14, 1992.

* Rodney Gene Beeler, 45, convicted in the Dec. 30, 1985, fatal shooting of Anthony J. Stevenson, 23, as he burglarized the man’s Orange house. Sentenced May 5, 1989.

Advertisement

* Eric Wayne Bennett, 27, a handyman convicted in the October 1994 rape-murder of Maria Evans Powell, 50, two weeks after he installed vinyl flooring in her Laguna Hills home. Sentenced Jan. 9, 1997.

* Richard Delmer Boyer, 40, convicted in the Dec. 7, 1982, killing and robbing of an elderly Fullerton couple--Aileen, 68, and Francis Harbitz, 67--who had befriended him. Sentenced Oct. 23, 1992.

* John George Brown (a.k.a. Gordon Lee Mink), 50, convicted in the June 9, 1980, murder of Garden Grove Police Officer Donald Reed. Sentenced June 11, 1982.

* Shaun Kareem Burney, 24, convicted in the June 10, 1992, carjacking and murder of Joseph Andrew Kondrath, 23, of Anaheim. Sentenced Sept. 16, 1994.

* Kenneth Clair, 38, convicted in the Nov. 15, 1984, stabbing and strangulation of Linda Faye Rodgers, 25, during a robbery at her Santa Ana home. Sentenced Dec. 4, 1987.

* Jonathan D’Arcy, 35, convicted of dousing bookkeeper Karen Laborde of Orange with gasoline on Feb. 2, 1993, and setting her afire during a dispute over a $150 paycheck. Sentenced April 11, 1997.

Advertisement

* John Galen Davenport, 39, convicted in the March 27, 1980, stabbing death of Gayle Ann Lingle, 30, of Tustin. Sentenced in 1981; sentenced again after a new penalty trial June 26, 1990.

* Richard Lucio DeHoyos, 40, convicted in the March, 20, 1989, killing of 9-year-old Nadia Puente of Santa Ana, kidnapped as she walked home from school. Sentenced Aug. 27, 1993.

* Timothy DePriest, 37, convicted in the Dec. 17, 1989, killing and attempted rape of Hong Thi Nguyen of Fountain Valley. Sentenced May 27, 1994.

* Fred Berre Douglas, 69, convicted in the Aug. 13, 1982, murder of Beth Jones, 19, and Margaret Krueger, 16, whom he picked up in Orange County, during a nude photo session in rural San Diego County. Sentenced April 5, 1985.

* Thomas Francis Edwards, 53, convicted in the Sept. 19, 1981, murder of Vanessa Ibelli, 12, of Lake Elsinore. Sentenced Dec. 11, 1986.

* John Joseph Famalaro, 40, convicted of kidnapping Denise Huber, 23, of Newport Beach on June 3, 1991, and sexually assaulting and killing her. He preserved her remains in a freezer for several years until his capture. Sentenced Sept. 5, 1997.

Advertisement

* Theodore Frank, 62, convicted in the March 14, 1978, rape-torture murder of 2-year-old Amy Sue Seitz in Ventura County. Sentenced in Orange County after a change of venue in a second death-penalty trial Feb. 11, 1987.

* Martin James Kipp, 39, convicted in the Dec. 30, 1983, rape-murder of Antaya Yvette Howard, 19, of Huntington Beach. Sentenced on Sept. 18, 1987.

* Randy Steven Kraft, 52, convicted of murdering 16 young men over 10 years. Sentenced Nov. 29, 1989.

* James Gregory Marlow, 41, convicted in the Nov. 12, 1986, killing of Lynel Murray, 19, a college student working at a Huntington Beach dry cleaner. Sentenced May 8, 1992.

* Teofillo Medina Jr., 54, convicted of four murders during a countywide robbery spree in 1984. Sentenced Feb. 25, 1987.

* James Andrew Melton, 45, convicted in the Oct. 10, 1981, strangulation of Tony DeSousa, 77, during a robbery at the victim’s Newport Beach home. Sentenced March 18, 1983.

Advertisement

* Christian Antonio Monterroso, 26, convicted in the Nov. 21, 1991, killing of two convenience store clerks during separate robberies. Sentenced Aug. 12, 1993.

* Edward Patrick Morgan, 32, caught on videotape strangling and sexually mutilating Leanora Annette Wong, 23, an attack that took place May 20, 1994, outside an Orange nightclub minutes after he was introduced to the victim. Sentenced July 19, 1996.

* William Adolph Noguera, 33, convicted of murdering Jovita V. Navarro, 42, his girlfriend’s mother, at her Fullerton home on April 24, 1983. Sentenced Jan. 29, 1988.

* William Charles Payton, 43, convicted in the May 26, 1980, rape-murder of Pamela Montgomery, 21, in Garden Grove. Sentenced March 5, 1982.

* Richard Raymond Ramirez, 38, convicted in the Nov. 21, 1983, rape-murder in Santa Ana of Kimberly Gonsalez, 22. Sentenced July 26, 1985. (He is not the convicted serial killer Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker.)

* Marcelino Ramos, 40, convicted in the June 3, 1979, murder of Katherine Parrott, 20, during a robbery at a Santa Ana Taco Bell. Sentenced April 28, 1988, in a death-penalty retrial.

Advertisement

* Stephen Moreland Redd, 52, convicted in the March 13, 1994, killing of Yorba Linda supermarket manager Timothy McVeigh during a robbery. Sentenced Feb. 28, 1997.

* Jaturun Siripongs, 46, convicted in the Dec. 15, 1981, murder of Packawan Wattanaport, 36, and Quach Nguyen, 52, during a robbery at a Garden Grove market. Sentenced April 21, 1983.

* Gregory Allen Sturm, 27, convicted in the Aug. 19, 1990, killing of three former co-workers--Chad Chadwick, 22, Russel Williams, 21, and Darrell Esgar, 22--at a Tustin auto parts store. Sentenced Feb. 26, 1993.

* Ignacio Arriola Tafoya, 37, convicted in the May 4, 1993, killing of Gerald L. Skillman, 35, and Steven Rita, 28, during a Westminster drug robbery. Sentenced June 6, 1995.

* Robert Clarence Taylor, 43, convicted of killing Ryoko Hanano, 60, and seriously wounding her husband, Kazumi, then 62, during a July 10, 1988, robbery at an Anaheim home. Sentenced Jan. 30, 1992.

* Robert Jackson Thompson, 51, convicted in the Aug. 25, 1981, murder of newsboy Benjamin Brenneman, 12. Sentenced Dec. 6, 1983.

Advertisement

* Thomas Martin Thompson, 42, convicted in the Sept. 12, 1981, murder of Ginger Fleischli, 20, of Mission Viejo. Sentenced Aug. 17, 1984.

* Alfredo Valencia, 37, convicted in the Dec. 15, 1993, stabbing and robbing of Roberto Cruz, 22, of Santa Ana. Sentenced Jan. 23, 1996.

* John Louis Visciotti, 41, convicted in the Nov. 8, 1982, murder of Timothy Dykstra, 22, of Garden Grove during a robbery. Sentenced Oct. 21, 1983.

Sources: California Department of Corrections, Times reports

Los Angeles Times

Advertisement