On the wee hours of March 20, 2011, members of five Vietnamese criminal street gangs somehow ended up together at a Little Saigon karaoke restaurant, and a fist fight occurred after cursing and mad dogging.
The hoodlums in the Tiny Rascals Gang (TRG) and their allies in Hellside apparently weren't fond of the gangsters in Viet Together (V.T.), Power of Viet (P.O.V.) and Asian Family (A.F.).
To express their displeasure, all sides usually liked to vandalize their opponents' homes in Westminster, Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Santa Ana.
But on this particular night TRG members threw a party, got wasted, planned an ambush, retrieved a gun, drove to the Billiards Phi-Hong pool hall popular with VT, POV and AF, and used about seven vehicles to block parking lot exits so nobody could escape.
The confrontation spurred a deep, philosophical exchange.
Someone yelled, "Fuck AF."
Someone else said, "Fuck VT."
Then before everybody began screaming their own gang name, somebody else added, "Fuck Asian Family."
An SUV loaded with VT, POV and AF managed to flee, but a member of TRG sitting in the passenger seat of a pursuing vehicle fired three to five shots. Victims Scottie Bui died and Roger James suffered serious wounds.
The evening was also life changing for Tien Phuoc Phung, a TRG lieutenant.
Though Phung was at the scene, he wasn't the shooter. He wasn't even in the vehicle with the shooter, but an Orange County jury convicted him of first degree murder, attempted murder, shooting at an occupied motor vehicle and street terrorism.
Jurors also found Phung guilty of committing his crimes for the benefit of a gang.
The defendant appealed his trial as unfair to a California Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. He contends police and prosecutors failed to find sufficient evidence to support the convictions.
But this month, a three-justice panel noted once again a point that has yet to be grasped among Orange County gangsters: You don't have to be the shooter in a killing to face murder charges.
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"The prosecutor did not need to prove [Phung] had any subjective knowledge or intent that a murder, attempted murder, or discharge of a firearm would occur," wrote Justice Raymond J. Ikola on behalf of himself and his colleagues, justices Kathleen E. O'Leary and Eileen C. Moore. "It was enough to prove that [Phung] intended to (and actually did) aid and abet one of the target offenses, and that the crimes actually committed by [shooter] Benjamin Nguyen were natural and probable consequences of the target offense . . . Everything that happened before and after the actual shooting supports the conclusion that [Phung] aided, promoted, and encouraged the target offenses by providing back up to his allies."
Upshot: Phung, 24, will continue to serve his 50-year punishment inside one of California's most notorious penitentiaries: Pelican Bay State Prison.