Santa Clara County prosecutors will seek the death penalty against two members of the notorious Asian Boyz street gang in the 1998 killing of a San Jose man whose son testified against gang kingpins, authorities said Wednesday.
The two gang members from Van Nuys also intended to kill three key witnesses during the lengthy Van Nuys proceedings as part of a wider conspiracy to disrupt the trial, according to the indictment.
Asian Boyz members waited outside the Van Nuys Courthouse during the trial, stalking three former members who had decided to testify against the gang, said Karyn Sinunu, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County district attorney's office.
Girlfriends and wives of Asian Boyz gang members were assigned to sit in the courtroom to look for lapses in security that might provide an opportunity for assassination, Sinunu said .
"There was a large-scale attempt on the part of most of the gang to obstruct this trial and kill witnesses," Sinunu said.
Charged on suspicion of killing Dong Dinh, 64, were Van Hang Heang, 22, and Pov Touch, 26.
Dinh was killed as he answered the door at his San Jose home on the night of Oct. 23, 1998. He was shot five times. The indictment names Heang as the shooter.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy targeted three witnesses: Dinh's son, Truong Dinh; Paolo Prado; and Chris Dang.
Prosecutors alleged that Heang and Touch made an earlier trip to San Jose to find Truong Dinh's family in December 1997, 10 months before his father was killed.
Both defendants are being held in San Jose on the indictments, which were returned May 25.
Dinh's killing was in retaliation for his son's testimony, San Jose Police Sgt. Steve Dixon said. Truong Dinh, a reformed gang member, testified for two weeks providing powerful testimony against former fellow Asian Boyz when his father was killed in San Jose. Truong Dinh continued his testimony three days after his father's death, and ultimately all seven defendants were convicted of multiple murder charges.
The Los Angeles Police Department provided protection to Truong Dinh and one other witness in the Asian Boyz case, but not to their families. At the time, Truong Dinh was in jail and security at the Van Nuys Courthouse was the tightest it had been in years. The other witness was relocated to a new home by the district attorney's office.
No special protection was offered to the Dinh family because police and prosecutors were not informed of any threats against the family, LAPD Det. Larry Dolley said.
"You do it based on a credible threat. You don't just do it arbitrarily," Dolley said. "I don't know what you could do realistically to ensure everyone's safety."
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Baird, the prosecutor in the Asian Boyz case, said the killing of Dong Dinh did not hurt the prosecution of the gang. None of the other witnesses pulled out of the case because of the killing, although they did fear for the safety of their families.
"It had an effect on the witnesses on the periphery. They were more afraid," Baird said.
Two years earlier, the murder of a witness had derailed a gang prosecution.
On March 23, 1996, the day before two Asian Boyz were to be tried for murder, another gang member-turned-witness was gunned down outside his home. The killing crippled the prosecution's case because his testimony had not been preserved. In the end, prosecutors were forced to strike a plea agreement with the defendants and reduced the charges to manslaughter.
After that murder, police targeted the gang. By that point, police said the Asian Boyz had committed 13 murders and dozens of attempted murders, assaults, robberies and home-invasion robberies in a yearlong spree of violent crime beginning in April 1995.
Det. Woodrow Parks of the Valley Special Enforcement Unit said there was no indication the Dinh family was in danger.
"This one kind of caught us off guard. They lived so far away. Usually, people we protect live nearby," Parks said. "There was nothing we did wrong. There had been no threats. There was no indication. There were hundreds of witnesses. We couldn't protect everybody's family."