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Evidence Destroyed in Slaying in Which Mass Murder Suspect Is Charged

Courts: Police say they disposed of bullets and blood samples from San Francisco case. Charles Ng also faces trial in Orange County for 12 killings in Sierra foothills.

October 19, 1997| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Police here have inadvertently destroyed crucial evidence--including bullets and blood samples--in the case of a suspected mass murderer who is also facing charges in Orange County, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday.

Defense attorneys say the mix-up is a major blow to the murder case against Charles Ng, who will be tried for the 1984 killing of San Francisco taxi driver Donald Guiletti.

Police records show that the evidence was destroyed in September 1994 because police logs mistakenly listed the case as closed.

"From what I understand, the bullets were a crucial part of the San Francisco case, and the disposal of the evidence was a matter of pure negligence," San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Brown said.

He said the destruction of the evidence may also hamper prosecutors who are scheduled to try the 36-year-old defendant next year in Orange County on a change of venue on 12 other counts of murder.

Orange County prosecutors wanted to use the San Francisco case to help persuade jurors to give Ng the death penalty if he is convicted.

The primary Ng case dates to 1985, when he and his partner, Leonard Lake, were linked to a string of tortures and slayings on Lake's Calaveras County property in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Lake was arrested for shoplifting in a building supply store and then killed himself by swallowing cyanide as police interviewed him. Ng--the only son of a Hong Kong traveling salesman--fled the country and was later arrested in Canada when he was caught shoplifting.

For six years, Ng fought extradition before being returned to the United States in 1991. He is scheduled to go on trial next year for his alleged role in the slayings of seven men, three women and two children in Calaveras County between July 1984 and May 1985.

San Francisco Police Chief Fred Lau said the evidence destruction involved "a policy failure" that had subsequently prompted the department to institute new safeguards designed to make sure such an incident does not occur again.

Lau said the loss of the evidence involved only "one aspect" of the San Francisco case and "in no way affects the Orange County case."

But Ng's Orange County lawyer, Deputy Public Defender William Kelley, said that because San Francisco police destroyed evidence in the 1984 case there, he will file a motion asking that any mention of that slaying in the Santa Ana trial be thrown out.

"By losing the evidence, they have precluded the defense from examining it and doing any ballistics tests that could have eliminated the bullets as being linked to Ng and the Guiletti homicide," the deputy public defender said.

Calaveras County Dist. Atty. Peter Smith, who is prosecuting Ng, could not be reached for comment on what effect the destroyed evidence might have on the Orange County trial.

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