4 Asian Boyz Face Possible Death Penalty

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven members of the Asian Boyz street gang were virtually guaranteed a lifetime in prison Tuesday after a Los Angeles Superior Court jury had found each guilty of murder, setting the stage for possible capital punishment for four of them.

After a four-month trial during which the father of the state's key witness was killed at his San Jose home, jurors convicted the gang in four incidents involving six murders and 10 attempted murders.

The verdicts for Bunthoeun Roeung, Roatha Buth, Ky Tony Ngo and Kimorn Nuth were read Tuesday; those for Sothi Menh, Son Thanh Bui and David Evangalista were read Monday.

Reaction of the defendants ranged from disbelief to anger to blank stares as the verdicts were read. Their relatives and friends, some of whom have attended much of the trial, held hands, hugged and sobbed in the quiet courtroom as the litany of guilty verdicts came down. Deputy Dist. Attys. Laura Baird and Hoon Chun were visibly pleased by the result, but a gag order by Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp prohibited the lawyers, police officers, survivors and relatives from commenting.

The six-man, six-woman jury failed to convict in only one incident, a fatal shooting on Aug. 26, 1995, that involved two carloads of people leaving the Family Fun Center at Devonshire Street and Balboa Boulevard after celebrating a birthday.

There was some confusion among the victims and some other witnesses on car descriptions and who was in them. One of the guns used in the shooting was recovered at a house where the gang congregated, according to prosecutors. Authorities said that casings found at an abandoned shack the defendants used for target practice matched those found at the crime scene. And two gang members who turned state's evidence, Paulo Prado and Truong Dinh, named the three defendants they said shot at the car.

The credibility of those two admitted members of the gang was the principal issue in the trial.

Defense attorneys alleged that the pair committed the shootings, but blamed their friends to spare themselves. Both were granted immunity and received leniency in a pending case for their testimony against the defendants.

The jury's findings were most beneficial to Evangalista, a 24-year-old former A-student who was spared death, but could still face six life terms in prison.

In two weeks, a separate penalty trial will begin for the four defendants who face possible death penalties: Roeung, Menh, Buth and Bui. The jury will be asked to decide whether they are heartless killers who deserve to die for their crimes, or products of childhoods steeped in violence.

Three of those defendants are Cambodian; some of the attorneys have already indicated they will present evidence that the Cambodians witnessed relatives dying in the war-torn country and lived through the so-called Killing Fields. Buth watched two brothers die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, according to his defense lawyer.

Evangalista, Ngo and Nuth will be sentenced separately in several weeks. Ngo and Evangalista face a maximum of 45 years and six life terms for a murder, conspiracy and six attempted murders. Nuth, who was underage when the killings occurred, faces possible life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Asian Boyz gang is made up of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Filipino members whose families immigrated in the 1970s. Authorities say the gang has hundreds of members across the United States. Those on trial were all members of the Van Nuys faction.

Police said the crimes they were convicted of were committed in an effort to become the most feared Asian gang in Los Angeles.

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The Verdicts:

The gang members were convicted of six murders, 10 attempted murders and three instances of conspiring of commit murder. The jury found that all the crimes were gang related.

Jurors could not decide, however, whether the defendants were involved in the August 1995 shooting of a carload of people, one of whom was killed. A mistrial was declared as to those charges.

Bunthoeun Roeung, 22: was convicted of all the charges against him: three murders, seven attempted murders and a count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon on April 14, 1995 and Rogelio Ferman on July 23, 1995. The jury found that he committed multiple murders, making him eligible for the death penalty.

Sothi Menh, 24: three murders, seven attempted murders and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon on April 14, 1995 and Rogelio Ferman on July 23, 1995. The jury could not decide whether he killed Oscar Palis and attempted to kill seven other people on August 26, 1995. The jury found that he committed multiple murders, making him eligible for the death penalty.

David Evangelista, 24: one murders, six attempted murders and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Rogelio Ferman on July 23, 1995. The jury could not decide whether he was involved in the Palis incident. Prosecutors sought the death penalty on the theory of multiple murders, but he was only convicted of one murder.

Roatha Buth, 26: was convicted of all the charges against him: five murders, two attempted murders and a count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon on April 14, 1995 and Chen Peng, Paul Vu and Ben Liao, August 1, 1995. The jury found that he committed multiple murders and ambushed three of his victims, making him eligible for death.

Son Thanh Bui, 22: was convicted of all the charges against him: six murders, eight attempted murders and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon on April 14, 1995, Rogelio Ferman on July 23, 1995, and Cheng Peng, Paul Vu and Ben Liao on August 1, 1995. The jury found that he committed multiple murders and ambushed Peng, Vu and Liao, making him eligible for death.

Ky Tony Ngo, 22: was convicted of all counts: one murder, six attempted murders and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Rogelio Ferman on July 23, 1995. He was not eligible for death because the murder did not fit into any of the special circumstances.

Kimorn Nuth, 19: five murders, two attempted murders and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He killed Armando Estrada and Miguel Limon on April 14, 1995 and Chen Peng, Paul Vu and Ben Liao on August 1, 1995. The jury could not decide whether he was responsible for the Palis shooting. The jury found he committed multiple murders and ambushed three of his victims, but he is not eligible for death because he was a juvenile at the time.

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