All that Minh Van Lam wants now is to "go back to school and get on with my life."
The 22-year-old Vietnamese student convicted of killing Cal State Fullerton Prof. Edward Lee Cooperman was released from prison a little more than a year after his March 28, 1985, conviction.
Lam, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the Oct. 13, 1984, shooting, was sentenced to three years in prison. Lam told police that he and Cooperman were in the professor's office practicing with a loaded gun, because the professor insisted on it. The gun went off, he said, when Cooperman tried to show him how to take a gun away from someone.
He won freedom early because he was given credit for time served in Orange County Jail, about nine months, plus time off for good behavior.
The shooting sparked an outcry among Cooperman's family and friends, who are active in Vietnamese affairs. They said the professor's death was engineered by right-wing Vietnamese elements because of his ties to the Communist Vietnamese government and his strong views in favor of normalization of relations with Vietnam.
Cooperman was the leader of an organization that provided medical supplies to Vietnam, and had told his wife and close friends weeks before his death that his life had been threatened.
But Cooperman's widow, Klasske Cooperman, said Lam's release didn't anger her.
"I still believe that Lam was being used by someone else, and that there was another person in the room when my husband was shot," she said. "If I were Lam, I would tell what really happened, before someone decides to shut him up."
Roger Dittman, a colleague of the professor's, expressed resentment about Lam's release less than two years after the shooting.
"He served about the same amount of time as someone might get for refusing to register for the draft," Dittman said. "That's a tragic and sad commentary about this country."
Lam, who has gained 30 pounds and now wears wire-rimmed glasses, said thinking about Cooperman and the case made it difficult for him to pursue his studies in electronics and computers while he was in prison.
He does not know yet where or when he will return to school.
In the meantime, he said he will live with his mother in an apartment in Westminster.