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New Jury to Decide If Killer Is Sane

Adam Tran, convicted of a fatal stabbing in Garden Grove, returns to court Friday for a trial to determine his sanity.

January 06, 2004|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

A new jury will be asked to decide the fate of a killer whose attorney contends he lost his grip on reality after following his mother's advice to stop taking his medication and place his faith in God.

A mistrial was declared last month when the jury that convicted Adam Tran, 30, of fatally stabbing a visitor to his Garden Grove apartment complex failed to reach a verdict on his sanity. Eight jurors thought he was insane, two thought he was sane, and two couldn't decide.

A new trial date is set for Friday in Orange County Superior Court to determine if Tran knew the difference between right and wrong when he fatally stabbed college student Vinh Truong, 26, as he talked on a cell phone planning a trip to Vietnam in summer 2002.

Tran's mother, Leslie Tran, had told her son to turn to prayer rather than the prescription medication that controlled his delusions but also severely sapped his energy, she told investigators. He cut his weekly dosage to 5 milligrams of Haldol, the prescription medication to control his schizophrenia, although a forensic psychiatrist testified to the first jury that even 5 milligrams every day would not alleviate symptoms for someone with Tran's level of paranoia.

Deputy Public Defender Dolores Yost said Tran's mental illness climaxed in the slaying of Truong. Tran told police that Troung had been making fun of him for a year, although the two had never met. Yost could not be reached for comment Monday.

Prosecutor Larry Yellin said Monday that he wasn't surprised that the first panel couldn't agree on a verdict, but he thinks it's appropriate to try Tran again.

"I still believe that he was not insane at the time of the killing," Yellin said. "You look at his conduct and you can tell he knows the difference between right and wrong."

During the trial, Yellin had tried to impress upon the jury that a history of mental illness does not necessarily constitute legal insanity if a crime is committed. He said that Tran had been coherent enough the day of the killing to drive to Los Angeles, borrow $200 from his mother while lying about how he planned to use it, then buy a knife with an 8-inch blade at a military surplus store.

After stabbing Truong, Yellin contends, Tran showed regret for his actions in a police interview.

If found to be sane at the time of the killing, Tran faces 15 years to life in prison. A verdict of insanity means Tran would be committed to a mental institution.

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