Santa Clara County prosecutors will seek the death penalty against two members of the notorious Asian Boyz street gang for the 1998 slaying of a San Jose man whose son testified against gang kingpins, authorities said Wednesday.
The two gang members also intended to kill three key witnesses while the lengthy trial in Van Nuys was underway, as part of a wider conspiracy to disrupt the proceedings, the indictment says.
Asian Boyz members waited outside the Van Nuys Courthouse during the trial, stalking three former members who had decided to testify against the gang, said Karyn Sinunu, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County district attorney's office.
"There was a large-scale attempt on the part of most of the gang to obstruct this trial and kill witnesses," she said.
Authorities have charged Van Hang Heang, 22, and Pov Touch, 26, both of Van Nuys, with the murder of Dong Dinh. The 64-year-old man was shot five times as he answered the door at his San Jose home the night of Oct. 23, 1998. The indictment names Heang as the triggerman.
The conspiracy targeted three witnesses, according to prosecutors: Dinh's son Truong Dinh, Paolo Prado and Chris Dang.
Prosecutors alleged that Heang and Touch made an earlier trip to San Jose to find the Dinh family in December 1997.
The two men are in jail in San Jose.
The killing of Dong Dinh was in retaliation for his son's testimony, said Sgt. Steve Dixon, a spokesman for the San Jose police.
The son, a reformed gang member, provided powerful testimony against members of the Asian Boyz, continuing his appearance on the stand three days after his father was killed. All seven defendants were convicted of multiple murder charges.
The Los Angeles Police Department provided protection to Truong Dinh and one other witness in the case but not to their families.
At the time, Truong Dinh was in jail, and security at the Van Nuys Courthouse was the tightest it had been in years. The other witness was moved to a new home by the district attorney's office.
No special protection was offered to the Dinh family because police and prosecutors were not informed of any threats against them, said LAPD Det. Woodrow Parks.
"This one kind of caught us off guard. They lived so far away. Usually people we protect live nearby," he said. "There was nothing we did wrong. There had been no threats. There was no indication. There were hundreds of witnesses. We couldn't protect everybody's family."
Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Laura Baird, the prosecutor in the Asian Boyz case, said none of her other witnesses pulled out of the case because of the murder, although they did fear for the safety of their families.
"It had an effect on the witnesses on the periphery. They were more afraid," she said.
Two years earlier, the murder of a witness had derailed prosecution of the gang.
On March 23, 1996, the day before two Asian Boyz were to be tried for murder, another gang member-turned witness was fatally shot outside his home. The killing crippled the prosecution's case. In the end, prosecutors struck a plea agreement with the defendants and reduced the charges to manslaughter.
By that point, police said, the Asian Boyz had committed 13 murders and dozens of attempted murders, assaults, robberies and home-invasion robberies in a yearlong series of violent crimes that began in April 1995.