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O.C. Jury Hung on Murder

October 05, 2002|MONTE MORIN and MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A jury deadlocked Friday in the case of a Newport Beach attorney accused of gunning down a client's wife, faking his own suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge and spending four years on the lam.

Ten of the 12 jurors favored acquittal for Hugh "Randy" McDonald, saying prosecutors never offered conclusive proof that the attorney shot 33-year-old Janie Pang in the closet of her Villa Park bedroom in 1997. McDonald insisted he was with a prostitute at the time of the murder and fled from Orange County not as a fugitive, but because he was tired of his stressful life in Newport Beach.

"We always thought he was a lying jerk, but we didn't think he committed the murder," said juror Monica Bartolone, 67, of Newport Beach. "We just couldn't tie him in to the murder. [The evidence] was circumstantial."

Bartolone said some jurors also believed assertions from McDonald's attorneys that Pang was the victim of a professional hit orchestrated by her husband, Danny Pang, a businessman who the FBI said might have ties to the Taiwanese mob.

"We thought it was a hit because she knew something she wasn't supposed to know," the juror said.

Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek a retrial. But McDonald expressed confidence Friday that he will be vindicated.

"I'm disappointed I wasn't acquitted," said McDonald, who remains free on $500,000 bail. "I have the utmost confidence I will prevail."

The five-week trial centered on a collection of bizarre circumstances surrounding Pang's May 30, 1997, death. The former stripper turned stay-at-home mom was killed around noontime, when a man in a suit carrying a briefcase appeared at the door of her home in Orange County's wealthy horse country. After a minute or two of discussion, according to witnesses, the visitor pulled a gun and began chasing Pang. He eventually caught up with her in her bedroom and shot her with a .380-caliber semiautomatic. Pang's son, a maid and the maid's daughter fled out a back door.

Prosecutors claimed that McDonald drove to Pang's home because Danny Pang owed McDonald's law firm $20,000. Of that sum, $4,000 was owed to McDonald directly.

Several days later, McDonald abruptly left his family and staged an elaborate suicide, prosecutors alleged.

Having told his wife he was traveling to the Bay Area for business, McDonald placed his watch and business card on a ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge. He also mailed cassette tapes to his wife and son that suggested he was going to kill himself. But McDonald headed to Utah, where he began a new life. He was arrested four years later.

Defense lawyers contended that investigators botched the case.

Michael Molfetta said that local investigators ignored a report compiled by the FBI and the Orange County and Los Angeles County sheriffs. That report, according to court testimony, noted that Danny Pang was suspected of being a member of the United Bamboo Triad, a Taiwanese crime group. Molfetta and co-defense counsel Kenneth Reed portrayed Danny Pang as a shady businessman and million-dollar gambler who abused his wife.

"The bottom line here is that they got the wrong guy," Molfetta said. "They've been looking for a motive for five years. They're not going to find it, and the reason is they're looking in the wrong place."

Many jurors didn't believe McDonald's claims that he left Orange County because of a midlife crisis. "We felt he was on the run," Bartolone said.

But in the end, jurors said they didn't understand exactly what McDonald's motivations were and felt there was not a strong enough link between him and the murder. They also felt detectives didn't look closely enough to other possible suspects, including Danny Pang.

"It wasn't a very good investigation," Bartolone said. "Things that seemed important to us, they didn't think were important."

Danny Pang's lawyer has denied that his client had anything to do with the murder. But he also said he doubts that McDonald is the killer.

Instead, attorney William Baker has suggested a third suspect, a man who was allegedly stalking Janie Pang since her days as a stripper.

But investigators said the alleged stalker was out of the country at the time of the killing.

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