SANTA ANA — Denouncing their crime as senseless and savage, an Orange County judge sentenced two teen-age killers Friday to 25 years to life in prison for the 1992 New Year's Eve killing of a young honors student, while a third defendant was committed to a detention facility for juveniles.
The sentencings brought to a close a case in which five youths who mostly came from loving, well-off families bludgeoned and suffocated a fellow teen-ager and buried him in a shallow grave in a Buena Park back yard.
The victim, Stuart A. Tay, 17, was headed for Princeton. But in his spare time he plotted to rob an Anaheim computer parts salesman, a scheme that ultimately led to his death.
At the close of the four-hour hearing, the victim's mother, Linda Tay, made an emotional plea for the harshest sentence possible for her son's killers.
"Not a day, not an hour passes when I don't relive it all in my mind," Tay said. "Justice will and must prevail. Let the justice system work for us."
According to testimony during the trial, Stuart Tay was lured to a Buena Park house and beaten with baseball bats and a sledgehammer as he pleaded for his life. He was forced to drink rubbing alcohol before his mouth was taped shut and he was buried.
Authorities say the teen-agers decided to kill Tay because they learned he was using an alias while plotting the computer theft with his new friends. Fearing he was an undercover police officer, they killed him.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kathleen E. O'Leary called the sentencings one of the hardest decisions she has ever had to make in her 13 years on the bench.
O'Leary cited the inherent conflicts between rehabilitation and punishment before concluding that her priority was to protect the public as she sentenced Mun Bong Kang, 19, and Kirn Kim, 18, both of Fullerton, to 25 years to life in prison.
The judge used her discretion to hand Kang, who faced life in prison without parole, a more lenient sentence. She said she was also exercising her authority when she sentenced Abraham Acosta, 18, of Buena Park, who also faced life without parole, to the California Youth Authority, where he will be released when he turns 25. Acosta, who has brain damage and was recruited by the others, was the youngest of the defendants but was also accused of being a key player in the killing.
The judge said sending the mentally deficient young man to prison would amount to a death sentence because she fears he would not survive.
O'Leary ordered that Kang and Kim be incarcerated at California Youth Authority until officials determine whether they can be sent to prison for the rest of their sentences.
All but one of the defendants were tried as adults because of the severity of the killing.
In all, five youths were convicted, including Robert Chan, 20, of Fullerton. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The prosecution's key witness was Charles Choe, 19, of Fullerton, who was prosecuted as a juvenile in exchange for his testimony against his co-defendants. Choe is expected to be released from the Youth Authority when he turns 25.