SANTA ANA — In a trial that began here Wednesday, a Missouri man already serving a life sentence in his home state faces a possible death penalty in California if convicted of the 1989 rape-murder of a Fountain Valley woman.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher J. Evans, in opening statements before an Orange County Superior Court jury, said that Timothy DePriest, 33, was responsible for the brutal Dec. 17, 1989, murder of Hong Thi Nguyen, 26, whose naked, battered body was dumped near a trash bin after she had been shot in the head.
Nguyen worked at a Garden Grove bridal shop as a seamstress.
DePriest's attorney, Lewis W. Clapp, told the jurors that the evidence wrongly points to his client's guilt, and suggested that another man was responsible for the killing.
DePriest, who was on parole from a California prison for a previous rape conviction at the time of the attack, admits using the dead woman's credit card, checkbook and car to travel to Missouri.
And not long after his arrival there, DePriest was charged with sexually assaulting a Missouri woman and the non-fatal shooting of a police officer who was trying to arrest him. On those charges, DePriest was sentenced to life plus 57 years in prison.
While recounting DePriest's admissions that he abuses drugs and used the dead woman's car, Clapp urged jurors to keep an open mind about his client.
"The evidence will show Timothy DePriest is not an angel," the lawyer said. "The evidence will show he has some bad acts in his background. But the evidence is going to show that he's not the man" responsible for Nguyen's murder.
Clapp said DePriest got Nguyen's car from an acquaintance who offered to sell it for very little money, so DePriest could return to Missouri to get a "fresh start."
On his way there, DePriest discovered a gun and Nguyen's purse in the car, and used her credit card and checkbook only because he was broke after purchasing the car, Clapp said.
Defense attorneys have criticized prosecutors for seeking the death penalty against a man who already faces a life prison term in Missouri, but prosecutors contend that DePriest might be eligible for parole some day, and deserves to die for the crimes they say he committed in California.