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Orange County

Defense Plea Denied in Deaf Man's Murder Trial

Interrogation of dead teenager's Laguna Hills neighbor is inadmissible. Testimony begins.

September 09, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County judge Monday denied a defense effort to toss out the confession of a deaf Laguna Hills man accused of fatally stabbing his next-door neighbor, saying there was no evidence that police had read him his rights improperly.

The interrogation is key evidence that the attack was racially motivated, prosecutors contend. They say it includes incriminating statements made by the defendant, Christopher Hearn, 22, shortly after his arrest, including expressions of hatred for Asians and other minority groups.

Hearn is accused of stabbing to death Kenneth Chiu, 17, about midnight July 30, 2001, in a fit of racial hatred moments after Chiu arrived home from a date. Chiu identified his attacker shortly before he died, police said. Hearn was arrested and provided statements during a police interrogation.

Hearn has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of murder with two special circumstances of lying in wait and killing because of ethnicity. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deputy Public Defender Lisa Kopelman argued that the testimony should be dropped because the sign-language interpreter was not court-certified at the time and failed to properly advise Hearn of his Miranda rights. She also said the interpreter failed to "warm up" with Hearn to learn of his language skills before the translation.

"Someone who's deaf has many fewer words to express themselves," Kopelman said. "Things have to be broken down into simple terms, and it wasn't done here."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolyn Carlisle-Raines contended that Hearn was faking that he didn't understand. Hearn was given oral and written advisements and waived both, she said.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino sided with prosecutors and allowed the tapes to be used as evidence. Makino said that according to the videotape, Hearn answered questions when he understood and asked for clarifications when he didn't.

Trial began Monday with testimony from two coroner's officials, who described Chiu's injuries and the scene of the attack.

Family and friends of Hearn and Chiu burst into tears as forensic pathologist David Katsuyama provided details of the 25 stab wounds that punctured Chiu's body. Some of Chiu's family members left the courtroom during that testimony.

The two families lived next to each other for decades. The Hearn family never returned to their home after the killing and put their house on the market. The Chius also sold their home.

Attorneys have agreed to a non-jury trial because of the complexities of the case, officials said. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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