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Money Not Seen as Motive in Tay Murder : Courts: Robert Chan, the alleged ringleader in O.C. honor student's slaying, still could face life in prison without parole if convicted of the remaining charges.


SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the alleged ringleader in the slaying of honor student Stuart A. Tay was motivated by financial gain.

Despite that ruling by Judge Kathleen E. O'Leary, Robert Chien-nan Chan, 18, faces the possibility of life in prison without parole if convicted of the remaining charges.

Chan, Abraham Acosta, 16; Mun Bong Kang, 18, and Kirn Young Kim, 17--all former students at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton--have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder and lying in wait. A fifth defendant, Charles Bae Choe, 17, pleaded guilty to his role in the slaying and will testify against the others.

The defendants and the 17-year-old Tay were allegedly planning a computer theft when they turned on Tay, authorities say, possibly after learning that he was lying to them about his name and residence.

Acosta still faces an allegation that the New Year's Eve slaying was committed for financial gain, because money was missing from Tay's wallet.

Based on statements by Choe and Acosta, prosecutors alleged that Chan gave Acosta $100 shortly after the slaying. But defense attorney Marshall M. Schulman argued that there was insufficient evidence and that the money constituted more of a "tip" than a formal payment.

"The motive was based upon Mr. Tay's deception," Schulman said. "The primary motive wasn't for financial gain."

In a related development, Kang faces a misdemeanor charge of assault stemming from a fight while in custody, said his attorney, Ronald G. Brower.

Trial in the murder case is scheduled to begin Monday, but several defense attorneys are requesting a postponement.

Court documents and an interview with one defense attorney indicate the jury in the trial might find the defendants blaming their co-defendants for the murder.

"My position, my view is that (Chan) was the principal (assailant) involved, he was the motivating factor and he recruited the other boys to be involved," Brower said.

A court motion filed on Chan's behalf hints the defense parties in the case will be "antagonistic."

"There will be significant issues as to who led the alleged conspiracy and each person's role in the conspiracy alleged . . . and the character for violence of each defendant will be at issue especially since Mun Kang appears to be a gang member," according to the motion.

Brower, however, said his client does not have any gang ties.

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