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O.The RegionC. Jurors Vote for Death for Killer of 3

The third panel in the sentencing of Dung D. Trinh, who went on a shooting rampage at an Anaheim hospital in 1999, grants his wish.

March 20, 2003|Christine Hanley and Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writers

A man who dared a jury to give him the death penalty for murdering three hospital workers during a 1999 shooting rampage in Anaheim finally got his wish Wednesday.

After two previous juries deadlocked on the case, a panel of eight women and four men deliberated less than four hours before voting in favor of a death sentence for Dung D. Trinh.

The decision comes a week after Trinh taunted jurors by telling them he executed the West Anaheim Medical Center employees because he hated Americans, an outburst his attorney described as an attempt to provoke the jury into sending him to death row.

The victims' relatives, locking arms and holding hands in three middle rows of the courtroom, gasped, sobbed and hugged as the court clerk read the vote aloud. One family member lifted both arms to the sky and shrieked with joy.

"I didn't expect a decision this fast, but I'm glad it's over," said Suzanne Robertson, who sat through all three trials of the man who killed her husband, maintenance director Ronald Robertson. "Our family has been through pure hell."

Trinh sat motionless between his two public defenders as Orange County Superior Court Judge John Ryan polled the jurors. At one point, he turned to one of his lawyers and asked when the judge would impose his death sentence.

The judge has the option of reducing the sentence to life without parole when Trinh returns to court April 14. In California, death sentences are automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Trinh, 46, was convicted in August of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Jurors in his first trial voted 10 to 2 in favor of life in prison without parole. Three months later, a second jury voted 11 to 1 in favor of the death penalty.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said Wednesday that he agreed with the jury's decision and that he is confident the latest verdict will be upheld by higher courts.

"I don't think the prior two penalty phases will make a difference," he said. "I do expect it to hold up on appeal. There's no question whatsoever that the defendant got a fair trial."

Jurors said they were swayed by the depravity of the crimes and were not particularly moved by the defense's argument that Trinh, a longtime caregiver for his bedridden mother, was distraught over his mother's death, which he blamed on the hospital.

"He may have been a good man. I'm not saying he didn't take good care of his mother," said one juror, a 63-year-old woman from La Palma who saw no justification for the killings or mitigating circumstances "that outweighed the circumstances of the crime. It was pre-planned. It was calculated. It was execution-style."

Armed with a pair of revolvers, Trinh walked into the West Anaheim Medical Center on Sept. 14, 1999. A videotape shows him calmly firing and reloading his weapons to shoot Robertson, 50, nurse's aide Marlene Mustaffa, 60, and pharmacist Vincent Rosetti, 50.

Defense attorneys argued that Trinh blamed the medical center for his mother's death and was suffering emotional and physical breakdowns at the time. Hours before the shootings, his 72-year-old mother had died at another hospital. But she had had her hip replaced at West Anaheim Medical Center.

Trinh had taken the stand in all three of his sentencing trials. In each of them, he testified that he deserved to die and dared jurors to put him to death. In the first two, he said he was seeking revenge for the alleged botched care of his mother.

This time, he told the jury he was not remorseful and also offered a different motive, testifying in broken English last week that he committed the crimes as a vendetta against Americans for Vietnamese genocide.

"I did my duty as a Vietnamese citizen when I pulled the trigger to execute three of that U.S. citizen," he testified. "I did my duty as a son.... I did my duty as a comrade. That's it. And besides that, I don't give a damn.... I accept the same in return."

Deputy Public Defender Sharon Petrosino said Trinh "figured he'd do whatever he could to get them to kill him, and this time they bit."

"He wanted the death penalty. So he got his wish."

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