By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
If Lindberg hadn’t written that letter describing the killing to a cousin in New Mexico and the cousin’s wife hadn’t contacted authorities, there’s a good chance the case would remain unsolved to this day.
Of course, Lindberg’s “Jap” was Thien Minh Ly.
At Tustin High, Ly wowed teachers by enrolling in advanced-placement classes in calculus, physics, Spanish, English, civics and economics—quite an achievement for an immigrant who’d known English fewer than six years. He earned an eighth-place ranking in a class of about 400. At UCLA, he served as president of the Vietnamese Student Association. In August 1995, he emerged from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a master’s degree in physiology.
The devout Buddhist returned to his parents’ OC home to decide his next move. Friends saw that he carried a study guide to the law school admissions exam, but he also spoke about his interest in medicine. While he debated his decision, he volunteered at a legal clinic established to help poor Asian immigrants in Southern California.
“My brother was such a loving, kind person,” Ly’s sister Thu says. “I can’t describe to you the pain his death caused my family. There were so many tears. How could this happen to him? It tore our hearts apart. . . . He inspired me to be the best person I can be.”
Though it's been more than a decade since the crime, Thai—Thien’s younger brother—still can't talk about it, according to Thu, who is married with several young children and living in San Diego. She dedicated her life to her slain brother, entered the military and served four years as a naval officer in places such as Kuwait and Iraq.
“He wanted me to be a strong and intelligent woman with the courage to find my own adventure,” she told the Weekly. “I often wonder what he would think of how I turned out if he were here. Such a thought often brings both smiles and tears.”
All I want to do is hurt and kill. . . . I’m a pure fucking evil dog and that’s no shit.”
—Lindberg in a letter to a relative two years before the murder
In anticipation of this story, I initiated contact with the condemned Lindberg at San Quentin several years ago. In return, I received handwritten letters loaded with smiley faces. Lindberg also likes to tell people that he’s insane, a word that’s tattooed on his upper left arm.
When I told him that I was going to write about him and requested a face-to-face interview, he first told me that a key witness who’d pissed him off during the Ly trial had died. He wrote, “Sounds like foul play!” Then he explained the conditions of our meeting.
“You’ll be locked into a small cage with me, and won’t be allowed a recorder or anything,” he wrote. “At first I was going to say NO. But if your [sic] wanting to do it then OK. Here’s your visiting form. You just fill it out and send it with a letter to me. Always, Gunner.”
The Department of Justice’s death-row-visitation form is lengthy, containing detailed questions about addresses, phone numbers, financial information, work history, schooling and relatives. It’s a treasure trove of personal data. And Lindberg wanted me to provide him with mine.
Suspicious, I called a high-ranking prison official, who laughed when I told him what Lindberg suggested.
“He knows damn well that he’s not supposed to receive that,” the official told me. “You have to be exceptionally careful with these people. Are you sure you want to be locked in the same room with him?”
I remembered that Senior Deputy District Attorney Debbie Lloyd, who prosecuted Lindberg, had told me that he is “a sick, sick dangerous man.”
“Would he be chained to a chair or a table?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Like he told you, it’d just be you and him in a small room.”
“I thought [Ly] was a kid. Next thing I know, we’re [on the tennis courts], trying to hassle the guy, you know? Have some fun, you know? Screw around with the guy. We’re just playing around. The next thing I know, the dude’s on the ground. . . . He was gone. Weird. Toast.”
—Christopher explaining the murder to police after his arrest
Lindberg is a mess of contradictions. He’s a white supremacist who has also described himself as “half Apache Indian.” (“Stay White,” he liked to write to friends.) He has claimed to believe in Christianity, but simultaneously espoused a satanic view of life. (“You must kill to learn on your way to learning infanate [sic] wisdom knowledge from beyoned [sic] the grave,” he advised in a handwritten instruction manual.) He has declared his hatred of Asians, but his best friend, a cousin, was half-Japanese.
“Gooks and Nips . . . sound like a bunch of mice talking, like a fast-forward cassette,” he told fellow inmates inside the Orange County Jail, where he violently attacked two Vietnamese inmates while awaiting trial for killing Ly.