Mass-Murder Trial Postponed Again

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mass-murder trial of Charles Ng, already more than 10 years in coming, was delayed another seven months Friday, angering the families of victims who said they have already waited much too long for justice.

Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan reluctantly agreed to postpone jury selection because the newest member of Ng's defense team will not be available to work on the case until March.

Ng is accused of torturing and killing a dozen people in 1984 and 1985 at a hideaway in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Jury selection is now scheduled to begin Sept. 1, 1998, in what is expected to be the longest and costliest trial in state history.

"I'm absolutely furious," said Garden Grove resident Lola Stapley, whose 26-year-old son, Scott, was one of the victims. "How long can this go on? This has just become the story of our life."

The trial had been set for February. The Stapleys, while outraged over the latest delay, said they are at least grateful that the case is being tried in Orange County, making it convenient for them to attend court proceedings.

Ng has pleaded not guilty. He could face the death penalty if convicted. The case was moved to Orange County in 1994 on the grounds that extensive publicity made a fair trial impossible in Calaveras County, where many of the victims lived.

The family of victim Paul Cosner traveled from Ohio this week only to learn of another delay in the case.

"We're just so very discouraged," said Cosner's 73-year-old mother, Virginia Nessley, who cried in the courthouse hallway. "It seems like it's just useless for us to come. Nobody cares."

The judge agreed to the latest delay to accommodate the schedule of San Francisco County Deputy Public Defender Michael Burt, who recently joined the defense team.

Ng had refused to cooperate with Orange County Deputy Public Defender William G. Kelley and wanted Burt appointed because he had represented Ng in Northern California.

"We did pick a February [1998] date and fully intended to go to trial," Judge Ryan said. "Mr. Kelley was not getting much assistance from Mr. Ng."

The prosecution objected to another delay. "Obviously, we want to go to trial as soon as possible," Calaveras County Dist. Atty. Peter H. Smith told the judge. "This case has been going on for far too long. The people need to stand up for our right to a speedy jury trial."

Ng was arrested in 1985 in Canada, where he fought extradition for six years until Canada's Supreme Court sent him back to California. An alleged accomplice, Leonard Lake, 39, killed himself shortly after he was captured.

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