Authorities stepped up their search Tuesday for 16-year-old Westlake High School student James Lee, accused in a shooting that left two classmates injured, as three of Lee's alleged accomplices pleaded not guilty in their first appearance in adult court.
Lee, charged with assault in the Feb. 4 melee at a park near the school, apparently fled to his native Taiwan after he was released on $5,000 bail, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Vanarelli said Tuesday.
Because of Lee's disappearance and the seriousness of the shooting case, which erupted from a feud between Lee and a school football player, the three 16-year-old accomplices should be held in lieu of $200,000 bail, Vanarelli told Ventura County Municipal Judge Steven Hintz.
Prosecutors fear the other defendants, who were being held in Juvenile Hall late Tuesday, would also jump bail, Vanarelli said.
His comments angered defense attorneys, who said their clients' cases should stand on the merits of the evidence against them and not on Lee's apparent bail-jumping. The attorneys requested bails of $5,000 on each of the defendants.
Hintz, however, kept the bail at $50,000 apiece. The attorney for one defendant--John Yi of Thousand Oaks--said his client would soon raise that amount.
Attorneys for the other two defendants--Oubonsack (Andy) Sonethanouphet of Brea in Orange County, and William Huang of Rowland Heights in Los Angeles County--said their clients could not afford the bail.
The brawl occurred after Lee and football player Curtis Simmons agreed to meet after school at North Ranch Park to engage in a fight, according to investigators, who said Lee showed up with five carloads of supporters, some of whom were armed with bats, sticks and guns.
Two football players who were at the park to support Simmons were shot and are recovering.
Yi faces four charges, the most of any of the defendants. The charges involve assault with a firearm, shooting at a motor vehicle, discharging a firearm in a negligent manner and possessing a gun on school grounds.
Sonethanouphet faces two charges of assault with a firearm. Huang is charged with two counts of assault with a firearm and one count of assault.
Lee faces one count of assault.
Huang and Yi are upset with Lee for failing to appear in court because it has made it harder for them to gain their release, their attorneys said.
Vanarelli and Sheriff's Detective Ernest Montagna said the Ventura County Sheriff's Special Enforcement Detail has been looking for Lee. The detail--made up of the sheriff's undercover anti-gang unit--has searched areas Lee is known to frequent and his family's $1-million home, Montagna said.
In court, Vanarelli said Lee's parents posted a $5,000 cash bail to get their son out of juvenile custody.
Lee is a U. S. resident--but not a citizen--and has lived in Thousand Oaks for about five years, Vanarelli said.
Vanarelli said Huang, like Lee, is a native of Taiwan and has been a resident of the United States for three years.
Sonethanouphet is a native of Thailand and has been here for 14 years, while Yi is the only one of the defendants who is a U. S. citizen, he said.
He added that Yi "comes from an extremely wealthy family in Korea" and has spent time there in recent years.
Attorney David E. Brockway, Yi's lawyer, said it would be "wholly inappropriate" for his client to be held in lieu of a $200,000 bail. He acknowledged that Yi took part in the melee, but said his client "has expressed his remorse."
Outside court, the defense attorneys accused prosecutors of lumping the cases of their clients together. Earlier in the court proceedings, Lee's attorney was granted permission to have Lee tried separately from the others.
"The district attorney's theory is if you charge 10 people and one doesn't show up, then they are all tainted," said Huang's lawyer, John E. Meyers.