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Man Convicted in Chinatown Theft, Killing of Officer

February 04, 1988|TRACY WOOD | Times Staff Writer

While relatives of slain Los Angeles Police Officer Duane Johnson sobbed quietly, a jury Wednesday returned a guilty verdict against one of two men accused of killing him during the robbery of a Chinatown jewelry store in 1984.

Sang Nam Chinh, 22, calmly sat facing Superior Court Judge Jean Matusinka as the jury returned its verdict, finding Chinh guilty of two murders, attempted murder and robbery. He was acquitted on a count of murdering an accomplice who died during the wild shoot-out in the jewelry story.

Behind Chinh in the courtroom, Johnson's wife Kathleen cried. Nearby, Johnson's two sisters, Donna Culwell of Corona and Pat Carmichael of Riverside, broke down as the jury was polled, hugging each other as they sobbed.

Johnson's partner, Officer Archie Nagao, sat quietly in the back of the courtroom. More than a dozen uniformed and plainclothes policemen lined the courtroom benches in a show of support for their fallen colleague.

After the verdict, Kathleen Johnson said she was "very pleased, very pleased."

Culwell said, "I'm satisfied, and now I want to see him get the death penalty."

The jury, which began deliberations Jan. 20, must decide if Chinh should be executed in the gas chamber. The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin within a few weeks.

Chinh is the youngest of four Asian immigrants allegedly involved in the Dec. 19, 1984, robbery of the Jin Hing jewelry store. According to testimony during the trial, the bandits expected to net about $100,000.

Two of the robbers, Robert Woo, 26, and John Cheong, 33, died in a shoot-out with police inside the tiny shop on Bamboo Lane. A fourth man, Hau Cheong (Peter) Chan, 32, is on trial before a different jury.

The jury that convicted Chinh found he was guilty of the murder of Woo but not of Cheong. Under California law, a person who participates in a crime can be charged with murder even if someone else actually does the killing. In the Chinatown case, prosecutors said Cheong may have started the shooting. Woo was killed by the shop's owner, Leon Lee.

Attempted Murder Conviction

Chinh was also convicted of attempted murder in the wounding of Officer Nagao and Robert Lee, son of the shop owner.

During nearly seven months of testimony, witnesses told how four armed men surprised two police officers and engaged in a shoot-out on a rainy Wednesday afternoon just before Christmas in 1984:

While the store owners and customers were held at gunpoint, the robbers began filling plastic bags with jewelry.

A silent alarm secretly set off by Leon Lee summoned Johnson and Nagao from a police substation only half a block away. The two officers, their holstered guns covered by yellow rain slickers, were admitted to the store by one of the well-dressed robbers who fooled the officers into thinking he was an employee.

After a look around the store, the officers appeared about to leave when Cheong drew his gun and shots rang out. Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence Longo argued that it was bullets from guns fired by Chinh that killed Johnson and wounded Nagao.

Chinh was wounded in the back and chin during the shoot-out. He and Chan apparently escaped out a rear door and were arrested the next day. Chan's lawyers contend that he never entered the jewelry store.

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