Jury deadlocked in case of man accused of killing bookie in Huntington Beach over debt

Orange County Superior Court's Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.
Even after six days in deliberation, jurors remained deadlocked as of Wednesday in the case of a man accused of killing a family friend in Huntington Beach three years ago over a $60,000 gambling debt.
(Sara Cardine)

After six days in deliberation, jurors remained deadlocked Wednesday in the case of a man accused of killing a family friend in Huntington Beach three years ago over a $60,000 gambling debt.

The defendant, Dennis Tri Gia Dang, 32, of Westminster, did not deny shooting and killing Linh Ho, 48, of Fountain Valley in the parking lot of a strip mall at the corner of Warner Avenue and Magnolia Street on Oct. 20, 2019. His attorney claimed he acted in self-defense and in the heat of the moment. Prosecutors argue he had no reason to believe the victim posed a mortal threat to him and suggested his actions were planned out ahead of time.

On Thursday, jurors told Judge Richard King they had unanimously decided Dang was not guilty of first-degree murder. However, they were unable to agree on whether or not he should be convicted of second-degree murder or another lesser charge.

“Multiple people have changed their minds back and forth,” the jury’s foreman, identified only as juror No. 129, said in court Thursday.

Judge King asked each juror, individually, whether or not they believed more time to deliberate would result in a verdict. Two said no, and one gave a definitive yes. The remaining replies included shades of “possibly,” “unlikely,” and “I don’t know.”

King noted multiple jurors were open to the possibility of reaching a unanimous verdict and said “the court has the discretion at this point, and perhaps the responsibility,” to ask them to continue deliberations. Both Deputy Dist. Atty. Janine Madera and Dang’s lawyer, Ricardo Nicol, said the level of uncertainty they expressed, even after spending nearly a week going over the facts of the case, was unusual.

The defendant was described as a middleman in a sports betting operation run by the victim. At some point, gamblers Dang had vouched for amassed a combined debt of about $60,000, which Ho held him responsible for, multiple witnesses said over the course of five days of testimony.

The victim told Dang to meet him with the money "... or else you can’t blame me for what happens to you,” in a text message the morning before the shooting. The defendant told his best friend, 34-year-old Midway City resident Casey Ngo, that he only had $2,000 at the time, and asked him to ride in his car with him to the location Ho had chosen.

They parked in a back lot, out of view of where Dang and Ho met. The victim arrived in an Escalade, and the defendant got into its passenger side. Less than a minute later he was seen getting back out and running from the scene in footage captured by surveillance cameras.

As Dang fled, Ho stumbled out of the passenger seat and then collapsed onto a nearby patch of grass. Bystanders and first responders tried to save him, but he died six days later in a hospital.

The victim’s sister, Monique Ho, was among several of his relatives who have been present in court almost every day of the trial. She denied her brother was the head of a gambling operation and said it has been heartbreaking to hear people characterize him as a criminal.

“I’m not mad [at Nicol], it’s his job,” Ho said. “But for him to say my brother was a bad person is painful. My brother is already 6 feet under; there’s nobody who’s going to speak for him.”

She described her brother as a peacekeeper in their family who would help mediate drama between their siblings. She said he cared for his elderly father by bathing him, taking him to appointments and picking up groceries for him every weekday morning. He would also bring attention to people in need in his native Vietnam and helped raise money via social media to build wells and purchase a wheelchair for someone who couldn’t afford it.

Dang said he and the victim had been working together for about eight years, and they would take thousands of dollars in bets on a weekly basis.

“It’s in the Jury’s hands now,” Ho said. “But either way, whatever they decide, I want people to know who my brother was.”

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