From his wheelchair at the defense table, 83-year-old William Leo McDougall of Laguna Woods pleaded guilty to murdering his convalescent home roommate because he believed the 94-year-old man was singing in Vietnamese.
As part of a plea deal with the court, McDougall is expected to be sentenced Oct. 26 to 16 years to life in state prison, which will then likely be suspended to lifetime probation.
Recovering from hip surgery at Palm Terrace Healthcare Center, a 99-bed residential facility in Laguna Woods, McDougall apparently could not take Manh Ban Nguyen's
singing in Vietnamese any longer. Late the night of Oct. 1, 2010, McDougall took a metal bar from the closet used for hanging clothes and repeatedly
bonked Nguyen in the head. Nguyen was later pronounced dead at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.
The thing is, Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh maintains Nguyen could barely speak when he was among the living, let alone sing. And Palm Terrace staff members said Nguyen and McDougall didn't appear to have a history of tension, there were never any reports of incidents involving them. Truly baffling.
McDougall pleaded not guilty to the murder charges against him at arraignment. Held in lieu of $1 million bail at the time, he was indicted by the grand jury in November 2010 for murder with a sentencing enhancement for use of a weapon during the commission of a crime. Maximum penalty: 26 years to life in state prison.
Those are the same counts McDougall pleaded guilty to today in Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals' Santa Ana courtroom. Members of his family and Nguyen's wept in the galley as McDougall voiced his plea.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.