Prosecutors dismissed murder charges Friday against a former Newport Beach attorney who investigators claim shot and killed a client’s wife, then faked suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge four years ago.
Less than month after jurors deadlocked in the murder and attempted robbery trial of Hugh “Randy” McDonald, the Orange County district attorney’s office announced that it was dropping the charges and would not pursue a second trial. Prosecutors said the murder case would remain open, however, and authorities could charge McDonald again if new evidence surfaced.
“We have thoroughly reviewed the case and we do not believe we will be able to get a unanimous verdict with the present state of the evidence,” said Susan Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. “If additional evidence is developed, we may refile the case in the future.”
Prosecutors would not say whether they were considering charges against anyone else.
At a hearing Friday, McDonald’s lawyer urged the judge to dismiss the charges “with prejudice,” a qualification that would prevent him from being charged again. The judge refused.
“It’s over,” said defense lawyer Michael Molfetta. “The evidence has been there for five years and it isn’t going to get any better.... Why hold this as an anvil over Mr. McDonald’s head?”
Ten of the 12 jurors favored acquittal for McDonald, saying prosecutors didn’t offer conclusive proof that the attorney shot 33-year-old Janie Pang in the closet of her Villa Park bedroom. Some jurors believed defense assertions that Pang was the victim of a professional hit orchestrated by her husband, Danny Pang, a businessman the FBI said might have ties to the Taiwanese mob. Danny Pang’s attorney, meanwhile, suggested a third man might have committed the crime.
At his trial, McDonald said he was with a prostitute at the time of the murder and fled Orange County not as a fugitive, but because of his stressful life in Newport Beach.
The five-week trial centered on a collection of bizarre circumstances surrounding Pang’s May 30, 1997, death. The former stripper turned stay-at-home mom was killed about noon, when a man in a suit carrying a briefcase appeared at the door of her home in the upscale Orange County community.
After a minute or two of discussion, according to witnesses, the visitor pulled a gun and began chasing Pang. He caught up with her in her bedroom and shot her with a .380-caliber semiautomatic. Pang’s son, a maid and the maid’s daughter fled out a back door.
Prosecutors claimed that McDonald drove to Pang’s home because Danny Pang owed McDonald’s law firm $20,000. Of that sum, $4,000 was owed to McDonald.
Several days later, McDonald abruptly left his family and staged an elaborate suicide, prosecutors alleged.
Having told his wife he was traveling to the Bay Area for business, McDonald placed his watch and business card on a ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge. He also mailed cassette tapes to his wife and son that suggested he was going to kill himself. But McDonald headed to Utah, where he began a new life. He was arrested four years later.
McDonald could not be reached for comment Friday, but Molfetta said his client was happy the matter was over.
From the beginning, his father, Gordon McDonald, 84, of Fullerton, said his son was innocent.
“They had nothing that pointed to Randy,” McDonald said. “They just charged him with everything. It was all pipe dreams. There was no way he could be a murderer.”
The elder McDonald did not appear in court during the trial because of a heart condition but got daily briefings from his son.
“He was so intense,” Gordon McDonald said. “Now he’s just beginning to relax.”
Gordon McDonald said he believes Danny Pang was responsible for his wife’s murder.
But Pang’s attorney, William Baker, disagreed.
“Danny had nothing to do with the murder,” Baker said. “Where’s the evidence? Why do [the police] hopscotch from one person to another after they lose a conviction?”
Baker believes the killer was a stalker who knew Janie Pang during her stripper days.
Baker said Danny Pang has been interviewed repeatedly and would have nothing new to provide to police.
“I’m very happy for Randy and his family,” Baker said. “It’s good news for Randy, but it’s frustrating news for everyone else, because somewhere in the world, the murderer is sitting and laughing because he got away.”