The two suspects in the slayings of two federal drug agents earlier this month may be prosecuted under state instead of federal law to give a jury the opportunity to send them to the gas chamber, U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner said Wednesday.
"I think that's something we'll be very seriously reviewing and considering in the next couple of weeks or so," Bonner said, noting that life imprisonment is the maximum penalty possible under federal law for the murder of a federal agent.
"I don't think there's any question in my mind that the premeditated first-degree murder of a federal agent ought to carry the death penalty . . . ," Bonner said. "Quite frankly, I think it's outrageous that Congress has done nothing in this area for so many years."
At a press conference where he made the remarks, Bonner announced that a federal grand jury Wednesday returned an eight-count indictment against the two suspects, Win Wei Wang, also known as William Wang, 18, and Su Te Chia, also known as Michael Chia, 21.
The two are charged in the Feb. 5 ambush of three undercover agents for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration who, according to court records, were planning to snare a quartet of drug dealers in an $80,000 heroin deal. Two other men allegedly involved in the heroin deal were killed by backup DEA agents after the ambush.
Agents George Montoya, 37, and Paul Seema, 52, were shot to death at point-blank range as they sat in their car outside a home in Pasadena, in what authorities believe was a classic drug "rip-off." Agent Jose Martinez, 25, who was driving the car, was shot in both legs but lived to recount the incident to his superiors.
In the indictment returned Wednesday, Wang is charged with murdering Montoya and Seema, assaulting Martinez and another DEA agent, robbing the three undercover agents, and conspiring to rob and murder them. Wang was shot eight times by backup agents in the gunfight that followed the ambush. According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Wang has admitted his role in the killings to federal investigators.
Chia, who reportedly acted as a lookout for Wang, is charged with the two conspiracy counts, and with aiding and abetting in the murders. He is also charged with robbery and assault.
The grand jury indictment returned Wednesday supersedes separate complaints against Wang and Chia that had been filed earlier by Bonner's office.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, whose office will prosecute the case if state charges are filed, said Wednesday that his lawyers have discussed the case with Bonner's office but that a final decision on the matter rests with the U.S. attorney.
"They have indicated to us that they want to see the maximum penalty that can be brought to bear on this . . . ," Reiner said. "It's a clear case for the death penalty in California. It's an intentional killing during the commission of a robbery."