Three years short of the ability to legally buy booze in March 2010, Fountain Valley's Christopher Dai-Ichi Yu hatched a lamebrain plan involving the party drug ecstasy, ended up with the possibility of spending the next five decades confined to a California prison and has been desperately seeking punishment relief.
From Yu's perspective his 2011 conviction for murder, attempted murder, robbery plus gang and gun enhancements is a travesty of justice because he didn't intend to rob or kill anyone. He and a friend, Lynn Quach, had agreed in a telephone call to sell 2,000 doses of ecstasy for $4,000 to Tuyet “Tina” Huynh. In reality, the duo didn't have the pills, but plotted to take the cash and flee in their vehicle, which is precisely what happened.
But a shocked Huynh grabbed onto the car as Quach, the driver, sped away. Quach's boyfriend, Truong Pham, chased in his own vehicle. The scene was straight out of a horror movie.
Huynh held on as the getaway car raced 70 mph down Little Saigon streets like Magnolia, Bolsa and Beach, collecting wounds to her feet and legs. Quach screamed for Yu to shoot Huynh. Yu screamed for Quach to stop the car. Pham tried pit maneuver-style moves on Quach's car, earning at least one bullet in his engine from Yu's handgun. Huynh eventually fell off and suffered gory, fatal head wounds from impact with the pavement. An Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy ended the nightmare when he stopped both vehicles.
In federal court Yu has argued he is, at worse, guilty of involuntary manslaughter or grand theft. He noted he didn't use or hint at force to take the $4,000 and, as proof he didn't want Huynh dead, pointed out he could have shot her but didn't. Though he acknowledged ties to H-Group, or Hit Man Group, a street gang, he claimed the crime had nothing to do with the underworld outfit. Poor personal fiances solely motivated him, he said.
But, like most people unfamiliar with the justice system, Yu is having difficulty wrapping his head around a California law: a person doesn't need to have formed an intent to kill to be convicted of murder if the death occurred during the commission of a serious felony, like robbery.
With the “felony murder” rule in mind, Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Chooljian studied Yu's complaints as well as counter arguments from California Attorney General Kamala Harris and determined the conviction didn't violate the defendant's constitutional rights.
This month, U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson accepted those findings and issued an order denying the right to appeal his stance.
Upshot: Yu, now 24, will continue serving his 55 years to life sentence at Calipatria State Prison just south of the Salton Sea.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.