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Clues Missed, Lawyer's Defense Says

Courts: Attorneys for a Newport man accused of murder say investigators failed to follow leads that could have pointed to another suspect.

September 25, 2002|MAI TRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attorneys for a Newport Beach lawyer charged with murdering a client's wife, then faking his own death, accused a district attorney's investigator Tuesday of missing crucial leads that may have pointed to another suspect and motives.

Hugh "Randy" McDonald is on trial in the fatal shooting of Janie Pang in her Villa Park home on May 30, 1997.

Prosecutor Walt Schwarm did not offer a motive for the murder but pointed out that Pang's husband, Danny, was a client of McDonald's law firm, which handled the Pangs' investments. The Pangs owed the firm $20,000; McDonald, whom Schwarm described as having money trouble, was to have received $4,000 of that.

McDonald traveled to the Bay Area three days after the shooting. Prosecutors accuse him of then fleeing from state to state and using the identities of dead people, whose names he found in newspaper obituaries.

In his testimony in a Santa Ana courtroom this week, McDonald said he flew to Northern California for a business trip but was so depressed over financial woes that he intended to commit suicide by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge. He testified that he placed his watch with his business card attached on a ledge of the bridge but changed his mind.

Schwarm countered that that was a ruse designed to make authorities think McDonald was dead so he could start a new life in Utah. Police eventually tracked him down and arrested him four years later in Reseda.

The defense spent much of the day building a case for there being another killer and grilling Orange County sheriff's investigator Yvonne Shull about a 10-page report belatedly submitted as evidence. The report was to have been turned over months ago, but Shull said she had forgotten to do so.

According to court testimony, the report--compiled by the FBI, the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department--noted that Danny Pang was suspected of being a member of the United Bamboo Triad, an Asian organized crime group from Taiwan, and should not be excluded as a suspect in Janie Pang's murder.

The defense further portrayed Danny Pang as a shady businessman and million-dollar gambler who abused his wife. Janie Pang had reported to police that Danny Pang had broken her nose, thrown things at her and made death threats, defense attorney Kenny Reed said.

In her testimony Tuesday, Shull insisted that Danny Pang was not a member of the triad and that there was no evidence linking him to his wife's murder. It was unclear if the FBI report pointed to any other possible suspects.

Shull acknowledged that she did not find physical evidence that McDonald was at the Pang home, didn't know about Janie Pang's planned divorce from her husband, failed to interview the last person who spoke to her and did not check to see if fingerprints found on the stairs matched other possible suspects.

"You have an unidentified print and the only thing we know is that it's not his," co-defense counsel Michael Molfetta said, pointing at McDonald.

Judge Frank Fasel has issued a gag order in the case, so neither side could comment outside court on the issues raised by the defense. They also would not comment on Danny Pang's whereabouts.

McDonald, who testified Monday in his own defense, will be cross-examined by prosecutors today.

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