The girlfriend of a killer once housed inside the Orange County Jail testified Wednesday that a friendly sheriff's deputy twice secretly tipped her to potential searches so she wouldn't be caught smuggling contraband including drugs and weapons inside the facility.
Prosecutor Aleta Bryant elicited the testimony from Ha Duc Nguyen who is hoping her statements in support of the government's bribery case against now fired deputy David Lloyd Cass will result in her lenient punishment for the illegal, two-year smuggling operation.
Nguyen told the jury that on December 3, 2011–the day she was planning to smuggle marijuana, candy and a cell phone (plus charger and cord) to killer Stephenson Choi Kim–Cass contacted her with a warning.
"Deputy Cass texted me on the phone and told me that we were going to get searched [at the jail] so be careful with what I had and what not," Nguyen testified.
She says she responded by calling Cass, who worked at the jail's visitor area, and learned that another deputy planned to search Kim–a homicidal gangster–but not her after a contact visit in the jail's Attorney-Bonds section.
If true, the warning paid off because Nguyen didn't give Kim the items and was clean during a search.
Nguyen–who later supplied the killer with the contraband–claims she personally thanked Cass, who supposedly replied, "You're welcome. You guys are good people."
Three weeks later, a routine raid on Kim's cell discovered extensive contraband (including drugs and phone). Nguyen says Cass contacted her shortly after the event and cautioned her to temporarily stay away from the jail because some deputies suspected she had been the source of the items.
"[Cass] told me that there was a search and they found everything and don't come down [to the jail]," she testified. "He said he spoke to Steve. He's okay. He was relaying a message from Steve. I was freaking out. He said the phone and the drugs [were found]."
Bryant introduced numerous records proving phone or email contact between
Nguyen and Cass on the dates.
If the jury is paying attention, that information will be one of the biggest problems for Lewis Rosenblum, the Santa Ana-based defense lawyer representing Cass.
Rosenblum acknowledges that the deputy was friendly with Kim because the killer snitched on other inmates planning an attack on the officer.
Nguyen also claims Cass suggested to her that Kim–who was at the time facing the death penalty for an unprovoked 2004 restaurant shooting that left one young woman dead and four other seriously wounded–should escape custody.
She asserted that the deputy told her Kim could gain freedom when the sheriff's department used "kind of stupid" civilian "brown shirt" employees at the jail.
"Steve could just walk out the door and they wouldn't even notice," Nguyen claims Cass told her.
She said the deputy came up with the idea to "comfort" her and Kim during the stressful 2011 murder trial.
"At first, I was incredulous," recalled Nguyen, who discussed the idea with Kim. "We went back and forth whether [Cass] was for real or not. Steve didn't believe it [at first]."
But an escape–incorporating the deputy's alleged advice to supply Kim a change to civilian clothes and a hat–looked like the only plan to save the killer from a life in prison.
"We did talk about how it would be on the run, the logistics of it," she testified. "Steve told me he spoke to Deputy Cass about the escape, but he needed a passport."
According to Nguyen, the idea collapsed after an effort to secure a credible-appearing, fake passport for substantially less than $10,000 failed.
In his opening trial statement, Rosenblum claimed that Cass did not know about the contraband or that Kim and Nguyen were having oral, anal and vaginal sex in the jail's visiting area–or shooting porn videos.
But Bryant has repeatedly gotten Nguyen to state Cass was the only deputy who turned off the lights in Booth A of the Attorney-Bonds room for her sex dates with Kim from 2009 to 2011.
According to the prosecutor, Nguyen and the killer rewarded the deputy for the privileges with expensive day spa, bar, hockey game and food gift certificates that totaled close to $1,000.
Given that Nguyen is pivotal to Bryant's case, Rosenblum has made no secret that the star witness can expect a brutal cross-examination to reveal her as "a liar."
Kim is essentially serving a 300-year sentence without the possibility for parole inside the California State Prison at Sacramento.