Three men were convicted of second-degree murder Thursday after prosecutor successfully argued that while the defendants did not pull the trigger, they assisted in the 1994 slaying of a UC Irvine student.
Robert Sapinoso, the 19-year-old college student, was shot in his car at a Garden Grove intersection because the three men mistakenly believed he was in a rival gang, said prosecutor Robin Park.
Defendants Phat Doan, 25, of Westminster, Vinh Ta, 21, of Santa Ana and Hau Ha, 22, of Garden Grove, face life in prison when they are sentenced Dec. 18 in Orange County Superior Court.
The three men also were found guilty of attempted voluntary manslaughter and of carrying out the crimes on behalf of a gang. Gunshots were fired in the direction of a passenger in Sapinoso's vehicle, but he was not harmed.
The defendants did not fire the shots that killed Sapinoso, according to court testimony. The suspected gunman, Huyn Nguyen, is in Canada and fighting extradition.
But Park argued that the defendants assisted Nguyen. Ta was driving the van that followed the victim, Doan owned the van, and Ha handed the gun to Nguyen, according to testimony.
"Every one of them was acting as a backup," Park said outside court Thursday.
Defense attorneys were critical of the jury's verdict.
"None of these people were the shooter," said Doan's attorney, Jack Earley. "The shooter acted on his own."
The Aug. 17 incident began when Sapinoso began following the gray van driven by Ta and took down its license plate number because he believed it had been involved in a vandalism incident in the neighborhood days earlier.
Another person in the van has not been charged, while a sixth, Hoa Le, 20, of Orange, is expected to plead guilty to second-degree murder.