A torn pornographic magazine was the deciding factor for an Orange County Superior Court jury in convicting a Newport Harbor High School graduate Wednesday of first-degree murder for knocking down and killing a liquor store clerk.
The jury of eight women and four men took about nine hours at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana to find Weston Scott Kruger, 31, guilty of killing Newport Beach liquor store owner and clerk Hao “Tony” Huynh.
The 100-pound Huynh died after a scuffle with the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Kruger on July 28, 2007, outside Sportsman’s Liquor Store, 2615 Newport Blvd. The shopkeeper had accused Kruger of stuffing an adult magazine under his shirt while he was in the store buying a pack of cigarettes. Huynh chased him outside and a struggle between the two men ensued.
At trial, a witness testified that Kruger pushed the shopkeeper to the ground with such force that Huynh sailed through the air and landed on the back of his head. The shopkeeper had a 4- to 5-inch crack on the back of his head, and he died the next day from massive brain injuries.
The jury had to decide whether Kruger threw the magazine at Huynh during the argument as an act of intimidation before shoving him, or if he tossed it to get the clerk to leave him alone.
The jurors’ decision would mean the difference between finding Kruger guilty of manslaughter or first-degree murder.
“It was the forcible taking of the magazine during the crime that made it murder; that’s the law,” Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy said after the verdict was read.
Public defender Jeremy Dolnick told jurors that Kruger should be found guilty of manslaughter, claiming that Kruger wanted Huynh to get away from him, so he gave the magazine back and then pushed the convenience store clerk.
“He feels awful and thinks that what happened is a tragedy,” Dolnick said of his client. None of Kruger’s family were at the courtroom Wednesday, Dolnick said.
Huynh’s family did not attend the trial, because of the grief they are still struggling with, Murphy said. The shopkeeper, who had worked at Sportsman’s for 15 years, was well liked in the community and left behind a wife and two children, Murphy said.
In the end, the jury decided that Kruger killed Huynh during an act of robbery, making the act murder.
“I don’t believe any of it was intentional,” said the jury foreman, who declined to give his name. “I don’t think that Weston intentionally tried to kill Tony. I think the circumstances just spun out of his control.”
Kruger could face 25 years to life in prison at a sentencing hearing slated for June 18.
Kruger was out on bail on separate charges of domestic violence and robbery when he killed Huynh.
He is also accused of armed robbery while impersonating a police officer and beating his girlfriend and shoving her face into a bowl of dog food.
The outcome of those criminal charges will be decided at Kruger’s sentencing hearing in June.