Another sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole has been handed down in the 1995 murder of an 18-year-old man in Costa Mesa that four fellow gang members have been convicted of carrying out. Already rejecting a motion for a new trial, Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue also denied an option to impose a sentence of 25 years to life because Truc Ngoc Tran was 17 at the time of the shooting.
Anthony Paul Johnson Jr. of Westminster, Giang Thuy Nguyen of Fountain Valley and the 18-year-old, Viet Nguyen (no relation) of Huntington Beach, wore masks the morning of Feb. 24, 1995, to pull a home invasion robbery at the residence of one of Viet's Ocean View High School classmates. Thinking he'd been recognized by the classmate's mother, Viet Nguyen split in the middle of the robbery, leaving the other two gang members to fend for themselves. They would flee with a modest amount of money.
That evening, Johnson, Giang Nguyen, Tam Hung Nguyen of Riverside and Santa Ana teen Tran met at a house in Midway City and conspired to murder Viet Nguyen because they also feared he'd been recognized, would be arrested and would implicate the others.
The next morning, Johnson and Giang Nguyen convinced Viet Nguyen to drive Tam Nguyen's van for a drug run while the owner sat in the back. During the ride, Tam Nguyen faked he was car sick to get Viet Nguyen to pull over onto the shoulder of the 73 freeway in Costa Mesa, which is where Tam Nguyen pulled out a semi-automatic and shot the 18-year-old execution-style in the back of the head.
Viet Nguyen was left dead the van as the others fled in a car driven by Tran, who'd been trailing them.
The case went cold until 2006, when investigators re-interviewed potential witnesses who included Ngoc Nguyen. It turns out he had been along for the ride in the van, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights before a grand jury. He was forced to testify under immunity.
Investigators trusted Ngoc Nguyen's account because he knew details of the home invasion that weren't public and other evidence was corroborated by other means, Deputy District Attorney Kevin Haskins explained to City News Service.
At Tam Nguyen's trial, the defense tried unsuccessfully to argue their client was not the triggerman, it was Ngoc Nguyen.
In April 2012, he and the other three gang members were convicted by a jury.
Johnson, 36, was sentenced in August 2012 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole, plus an extra 10 years for the murder conspiracy. Tam Nguyen, 37, received the same sentence in January, but his extra time for the conspiracy was 45 years to life.
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Giang Thuy Nguyen's motion for a new trial was rescheduled for Aug. 9 because the 37-year-old's attorney is ailing,
Judge Donahue justified Friday's harsh sentence for Truc Tran "due to the circumstances of the offense and the fact that the defendant had committed an attempted murder with co-defendant Anthony Johnson only five months after he participated in the murder of Viet Nguyen," Haskins told City News Service.