Remember the two guys and a woman who accepted plea deals in the murder of Chi Ngoc Bui, who was run over on a Santa Ana street after winning $10,000 at the Hawaiian Gardens Casino in September 2010? While Tad Allen Carroll accepted his plea deal Friday (just as Michael William Ross had in September), Barbara Ann Hamel withdrew hers, claiming Allen and Ross drugged her before 55-year-old Bui's slaying.
The original deal with Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg had Ross, 30, Hamel, 50, and Carroll, 45, pleading guilty to the charges against them in exchange for the possibility of parole some day. Without the deals, all three faced life without parole if convicted of first-degree murder in the course of a robbery, second-degree robbery and attempted second-degree robbery.
By withdrawing her guilty plea, which Froberg allowed, Hamel presumably could get life without parole with a conviction. And to hear Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin tell it, prosecutors are confident she'll be found guilty. "There's no evidence of that," Yellin told City News Service's Paul Anderson of Hamel's claims of being drugged. "She had a very clear confession in terms of what happened, which will now be used in her trial."
With the deal, Hamel had been looking at a sentence of 15 years to life in state prison for second-degree murder, meaning the soonest she would be eligible to apply for parole would be 15 years. That's the sentence that Froberg gave Ross, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Carroll pleaded guilty Dec. 13 to first-degree murder and received a sentence of 25 years to life. But he also received about three years credit for time served in jail, so his first chance at parole will come in about 22 years.
Ross was in the casino looking for big winners to rob Sept. 3, 2010, when he spotted Bui, who cashed in $10,000 worth of chips. Ross then called ahead to Carroll and Hamel, who were waiting outside the casino in a Pontiac Grand Prix.
Bui was driving his friend Kim Nguyen home to Santa Ana from the casino around 4:30 a.m. when driver Hamel cut off their Honda Civic in the 100 block of South Anders Place and boxed them in. Bui and Carroll got out of their respective vehicles, and the robber threatened the gambler with a knife. The two fought and Carroll ran back to the Grand Prix with some of Bui's winnings. Bui was then run over and killed as the Grand Prix sped off. Nguyen escaped injury.