A group of young Asian American adults stood in the parking lot of a Little Saigon Mexican restaurant in Sept. 2008, puffed their chests, mad dogged each other and angrily screamed their opposing criminal street gang affiliations.
“V Boys!” some yelled.
“Cadillac Boyz!” the rivals yelled.
“Asian Gang!” still others yelled.
Cadillac Boyz member Jim Hoang Tran retrieved a gun and handed it to Steven Phung Nguyen, who fired warning shots into the ground in hopes of winning respect.
“Do you want to get blasted?” Nguyen said.
The V Boys weren't impressed and continued to yell their gang affiliation, which prompted an unnerved Nguyen to shoot one of the rivals in the leg and another in the chest.
A 2012 Orange County jury agreed that Nguyen committed two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and did so for the benefit of a gang.
Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno sentenced the defendant to prison.
But Nguyen appealed his convictions, arguing that the shooting was an act originating in the heat of passion and not a thoughtful move to improve the street credibility of Cadillac Boyz (a.k.a. “Caddy Lost Boyz”).
Late last month, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana considered the argument and issued a 13-page opinion that declined to accept the defendant's characterization of himself as a relatively harmless kid.
Before the shooting, Nguyen had chosen to join a gang and been caught committing vandalism at age 15 and selling methamphetamine at 16, according to court records.
After he turned 18, the criminal cases against him continued: possession of narcotics, theft, drug sales and then the stupid Westminster shooting incident.
Given that history and the use of a firearm, Justices Richard Aronson, Kathleen O'Leary and William Bedsworth didn't buy Nguyen's argument that he deserved only probation as punishment.
The justices also concluded that Nguyen's assertion that a gang enhancement shouldn't apply is meritless.
“The jury rejected defendant's claim he acted in self-defense,” Justice Aronson wrote for the panel. “Ample evidence supported [the jury's] conclusion defendant responded [to words from his rivals] by assaulting the victims for their disrespectful treatment of defendant and his gang.”
Upshot: Nguyen, 24, will continue to serve his 13-year punishment inside Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.