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Hung jury leads to mistrial in case of bookie’s 2019 homicide in Huntington Beach

Orange County Superior Court's Central Justice Center.
Jurors were unable to agree on a verdict in the case of a middleman in a sports betting operation accused of killing the bookie he worked for three years ago in Huntington Beach, prompting the declaration of a mistrial Thursday.
(Sara Cardine)

Jurors were unable to agree on a verdict in the case of a middleman in a sports betting operation accused of killing the bookie he worked for three years ago in Huntington Beach, prompting the declaration of a mistrial Thursday.

The defendant, Dennis Tri Gia Dang, was accused of shooting and killing Linh Ho on Oct. 20, 2019. He claimed he acted in self-defense, while prosecutors alleged during trial that he planned to assassinate the victim to escape a $60,000 gambling debt.

Jurors heard five days of testimony. They then spent seven days deliberating the facts of the case.

“Some people are extremely convinced of a verdict on one side, some on the other, and others are undecided,” the jury’s foreman told Judge Richard King in a note Thursday morning. “And those groups are not overlapping.”

As of Thursday, the opinions of the jury were split with seven leaning toward a verdict of second-degree murder, and the rest favoring voluntary manslaughter. But they all agreed that spending more time in deliberation would not result in a unanimous decision.

“They worked diligently in an attempt to reach a verdict,” Judge Richard King told those gathered in the courtroom Thursday. “And this decision, or non-decision, has value in what the future course of this case might be.”

In light of the hung jury, defense attorney Ricardo Nicol submitted a motion for a mistrial that was immediately granted by King. The judge then instructed both parties to return to court on Oct. 3 to discuss the status of the case.

It is possible some sort of deal might be arranged between the defendant and prosecutors before then, or the case could be tried again. In the meantime, Dang will remain in Orange County Sheriff’s custody in lieu of over $3-million bail.

Dang’s father was a friend of Ho, and he began working part time for the victim shortly after graduating college. But at some point, gamblers Dang had recommended racked up a $60,000 debt.

Ho told Dang to meet him with the money at a strip mall at the corner of Warner Avenue and Magnolia Street. The defendant got into the victim’s silver Escalade and was then seen running from the scene to a car parked in a separate rear lot.

Afterward, Ho got out of the SUV, then collapsed just a few steps away. He died six days later in a hospital.

Dang told investigators in a recorded statement following his arrest that Ho became aggressive when he told him he didn’t have all the money he was demanding, so he pointed a gun at the victim and commanded him to stop threatening him. The defendant said Ho reached at him in an apparent attempt to swat the weapon away. That’s about when he pulled the trigger, firing a bullet into the bookie’s right temple, he said.

Nicol argued that Dang never wanted to kill Ho but was afraid for his life during that meeting. However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jean Madera said there was no record of any physical threats made by the victim.

She also pointed out the defendant changed clothes once before meeting with Ho and again as he fled the scene from the shooting. The prosecutor suggested Dang did this because he had already decided he was going to shoot the victim and wanted to avoid being recognized.

The victim’s sister, Monique Ho, said she doubted Dang’s account of events and was convinced he had planned her brother’s killing. She also denied that her brother was the head of a sports betting operation and described him as a generous man who cared for his aging parents and looked out for relatives abroad.

Dang’s mother said she had no idea her son was working with Ho or that he owed him money until the defendant’s arrest. She added he has denied any wrongdoing during their telephone calls, but both of them are otherwise reluctant to discuss his case.

The defendant’s mother said they have talked to each other almost every day since his arrest three years ago. They usually talk about family and do their best to keep each other’s spirits up.

“He tells me ‘as long as you’re OK, I’m OK,” his mother said. “But I worry that if he stays in there too long, he’s going to change.”

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