A Fountain Valley man--with previous felony strikes for voluntary manslaughter, armed robbery and assault with a firearm--poured gasoline in the room of a Santa Ana motel that had evicted him, setting off an explosion and fire, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.
But Thanh Van Quang's attorney said his 39-year-old client, who is facing a possible life sentence, did not commit arson but may have done something "stupid."
Hey, what's to say both sides aren't right?
The sight of Quang carrying a gas can onto the Pueblo Motel property at 1501 N. Harbor Blvd. on Nov. 30, 2012, was enough to alarm owner-manager Myung Cha. For one thing, Quang did not own a car and would not seem to have a reason for petrol. For another, Cha had kicked out Quang, who checked in 10 days earlier, because he violated a "no guests" rule, according to Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz.
In Katz opening statement, which was covered by City News Service's Paul Anderson, the veteran prosecutor gave a reason for what transpired over 18 minutes of Cha closely watching Quang via surveillance video.
"Revenge, that's it," Katz said of Quang allegedly removing some of his belongings, pouring gasoline inside the room and closing the door and curtains.
But Quang may not have anticipated what happened next, something that actually lends credence to the "stupid" theory foisted by Charles Hasse of the Orange County Public Defender's Office: an explosion that blew the former tenant out the front door.
(Side note to motel owners: Wanna know how to get rid of evicted guests who just won't leave ...)
Cha dialed 9-1-1 after the blast, and an Orange County sheriff's deputy who later questioned Quang walking away in the motel parking lot noticed his hair was singed and his back, hands and arm were burned.
Cue the "Real Men of Genius" theme song.
But Hasse is sticking to his legal guns, telling jurors, "Basically, at the end of the day ... you'll see there's no malice in this case, and with no malice there's no arson." The lawyer claims evidence will show that a pilot light for a wall furnace sparked the "flash fire," and he claimed his client had no beef with Cha. Quang didn't even yell when he was evicted, Hasse said.
According to Anderson's report, Hasse went on to essentially put Cha on trial, claiming the motel manager had a reputation for often calling authorities, including to report homeless people in the area.
But why would a guy with no car need a can of gas.
"He planned to burn some of his clothes," Hasse said. "It is odd, but not malicious."
And burning those clothes in one's room?
"It's stupid, but not malicious.''
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Odd is as stupid does, one supposes.
It's an act of something-or-other that could send Quang to state prison for 31 years to life, according to an Orange County District Attorney's office statement.
He is charged with one felony count each of arson of an inhabited property and possession of a flammable material with sentencing enhancements for arson with use of an accelerant, and four prior strike convictions from 1998 for voluntary manslaughter, assault with a firearm, and two felony counts of robbery.