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Prosecutors Push for Death Penalty in Asian Boyz Trial

Court: District attorneys say the convicted gang members should be fully punished for a spate of killings.

April 14, 1999|EVELYN LARRUBIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — Saying the defendants showed no mercy for the dozens of people they assaulted, wounded and killed, prosecutors Tuesday asked jurors to recommend the death penalty for four Asian Boyz street gang members for their roles in a bloody 1995 crime spree.

"Our laws recognize that some people commit crimes that are so evil, so outrageous and so heinous that they don't deserve to live," Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Baird said. "That's what these four have done by their conduct in 1995."

Last month, seven Asian Boyz gang members were convicted of murder and attempted murder for their participation in six slayings and 10 attempted slayings over a one-year period. The jury also found special circumstances, making Bunthoeun Roeung, Sothi Menh, Roatha Buth and Son Thanh Bui eligible for the death penalty and leading to a second trial on the issue of punishment.

During the penalty trial, prosecutors Baird and Hoon Chun told the jury about more crimes, including three other killings for which the defendants are allegedly responsible. One is the home-invasion slaying of a man while his wife and children slept.

Prosecutors also hammered on the details of five shootings that began with the ambush of a rival Latino gang on the Lunar New Year 1995.

The Asian Boyz gang members are also suspected of having the father of the state's key witness--a gang member who turned state's evidence--killed at his San Jose doorstep during the trial. No charges have been filed.

Defense lawyers were scheduled to offer reasons the jury should instead recommend life without the possibility of parole for their clients, based on the plaintive testimony of their relatives, teachers and employers. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and a son have testified over the past few days and asked that the defendants' lives be spared.

The most elaborate defense has been that of Buth, 26, whose lawyer is expected to argue that his client was led to a life of gangs and crime by a violent and hostile youth--first in the so-called Cambodian "killing fields," then in racially divided Van Nuys.

Last week, attorney Jack Stone called a psychologist and a psychiatrist who examined Buth and testified that he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome from living through the starvation, family separation, work camps and violence of the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia in the 1970s, which claimed the lives of two of his brothers. Dr. William Sacks, who for 15 years has studied the psychological effects of the Pol Pot regime on children, compared that experience to living in Dante's Inferno.

Both expert witnesses testified that anyone who lived through that would be more likely to join a gang. The psychologist added that Buth has a learning disability that caused him to fail in school. Compounded with the dashed hopes of a perfect life in the United States and the later accidental death of a brother, the disability also "predisposed" him to a life of crime, psychologist Richard Romanoff said.

Roeung and Menh are also Cambodian immigrants; Bui is a Vietnamese immigrant.

But living through horrors, prosecutors responded, is no excuse for later committing other horrors.

"It does not justify or mitigate or excuse what those people did," Baird said, pointing at the defendants.

"I ask you to keep in mind who the true victims in this case were," she added. "I ask you to think of all those things, all the hopes, the dreams, the ambitions, the aspirations that were taken from the true victims in this case."

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