In less than 15 seconds in the middle of the night on June 2, 2007 in Orange County's Little Saigon, gun-happy Vietnamese immigrant Anh Duoc Nguyen, though just 17 years old, forever lost his youth and his freedom.
Until Jan. 20, Nguyen--a onetime Garden Grove High School student and member of the Wah Ching criminal street gang--waited more than 1,670 days inside the Orange County Jail to officially learn his fate.
He committed his crimes on that June 2007 morning, lost his jury trial in 2011 and faced Superior Court Judge William Froeberg for his punishment yesterday.
Joanne Harrold, Nguyen's defense attorney, pleaded with Froeberg to be lenient because her client had been so young at the time of his crimes. It was true that the defendant's conduct had been sparked by juvenile emotions. He'd attempted to murder five people at Westminster's Bowling Green Park after one of his victims jokingly listing his hometown as "Garden Gang"--not Garden Grove--on his MySpace homepage.
Nguyen--who'd been a violent troublemaker in school and had been known to address his teachers as "bitch"--considered the joke offensive and worthy of the ultimate punishment: death. According to law enforcement reports, he yelled his gang's name before firing five gun shots. One victim was hit in the stomach and back, and suffered severe spinal wounds. Doctors were forced to remove about 12 inches of that man's intestines as well.
Detectives at the Westminster Police Department pieced together the facts of the crime and eventually arrested Nguyen, who first denied but later admitted his gang membership. It didn't help his cause that he possessed a "MPWC" baseball cap (Monterey Park Wah Ching) and carried the gang's tattoo on a wrist: three round burn marks.
At the sentencing hearing, Nguyen--wearing an Orange jail jumpsuit and chains--sat quietly at a table and watched Harrold, a former municipal judge who now enjoys a healthy legal practice representing accused Vietnamese hoodlums, relentlessly push for leniency. Froeberg listened patiently and rejected each of her attempts. She even asked him to consider Nguyen's jailhouse art, which she believes underscores his tender, non-murderous side.
The judge declined to look at the art before sentencing Nguyen to spend the rest of his life in a California prison. When he's done with that punishment, the gangster must serve an extra 25 years, according to Froeberg.
A disappointed Harrold sighed. But she's still not giving up. She says she has already prepared an appeal in hopes of winning a new trial.
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As two bailiffs removed Nguyen from the courtroom in preparation for his trip to a penitentiary, the now 22-year-old defendant looked at the courtroom ceiling and slowly shook his head.
It could have been the last time in his life that he'll be outside of a prison.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
(rscottmoxley at ocweekly dot com)