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Jury Selected for New Trial in Cooperman Death : 2nd Inmate Says Lam Called Killing Deliberate

March 26, 1985|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

With jury selection in the second Minh Van Lam trial completed and opening statements scheduled to begin today, a second inmate of the Orange County Jail has claimed that the 21-year-old Vietnamese student said he deliberately killed Cal State Fullerton Prof. Edward Lee Cooperman.

Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. James Enright declined to say whether he intends to call the jailhouse informant as a witness. He would only say his office is still investigating.

Lam, a former student of Cooperman, admits he killed the professor at Cooperman's campus office on Oct. 13, 1984, but claims it was an accident. Lam said that a .25-caliber handgun went off when the professor grabbed his arm to show him how to aim the weapon.

Before the first trial, which ended in a hung jury, prosecutors interviewed an inmate who said that Lam told him he killed Cooperman on orders from other Vietnamese who were opposed to Cooperman's political ties to communist Vietnam. Prosecutors decided not to use 18-year-old Tuano Koivisto, an auto theft suspect, as a witness because his credibility was questionable.

But sources close to the investigation say that the second informant's credibility is better than Koivisto's and that investigators are keenly interested in him as a potential witness.

The second informant allegedly told investigators that Lam said he killed Cooperman after the two had an argument.

Enright said he could not discuss the second informant because he had been ordered by Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom not to discuss the case. Beacom presided at the first trial and is presiding at the second. Beacom could not be reached for comment on that order.

Before the order was issued, Enright said Monday that he had not talked to the second informant himself.

The district attorney's office would not release the second informant's name.

Lam's attorney, Alan May, said that he did not know the second informant's name but that he would object if Enright tries to call him as a witness.

May also refused to discuss details of the informant because of the judge's gag order.

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