Jury deadlocked in case of man accused of killing Huntington Beach bookmaker for debt
After six days of deliberation, jurors deadlocked on Wednesday in the case of a man accused of killing a family friend in Huntington Beach three years ago over a $60,000 gambling debt .
The accused, Dennis Tri Gia Dang, 32, of Westminster, did not deny shooting and killing Linh Ho, 48, of Fountain Valley in the parking lot of a shopping center at the corner of Warner Avenue and Magnolia Street on October 20, 2019. His lawyer claimed he acted in self-defense and in the heat of the moment. Prosecutors argue he had no reason to believe the victim posed a deadly threat to him and suggested his actions were pre-planned.
On Thursday, jurors told Judge Richard King they had unanimously decided Dang was not guilty of first-degree murder. However, they could not agree on whether or not he should be convicted of second degree murder or another less serious charge.
“A lot of people changed their minds back and forth,” the jury foreman, identified only as juror No. 129, said in court Thursday.
Judge King asked each juror, individually, whether or not they thought more time to deliberate would result in a verdict. Two said no and one gave a definite yes. The remaining responses included shades of “maybe”, “unlikely”, and “I don’t know”.
King noted that several jurors were open to the possibility of reaching a unanimous verdict and said “the court has the discretion at this point, and perhaps the responsibility,” to ask them to continue deliberations. Both Sub-Dist. Atti. Janine Madera and Dang’s attorney, Ricardo Nicol, said the level of uncertainty they expressed, even after spending nearly a week considering the facts of the case, was unusual.
The defendant was described as a middleman in a sports betting operation run by the victim. At one point, the Dang players had vouched for running up a combined debt of around $60,000, for which Ho held him responsible, multiple witnesses said during the five days of testimony.
The victim told Dang to meet him with the money “…otherwise you can’t blame me for what happened to you,” in a text message the morning before the shooting. The defendant told his best friend, 34-year-old Casey Ngo, a former Midway City resident, that he only had $2,000 at the time, and asked him to get in his car with him until at the place chosen by Ho.
They parked in a parking lot out back, out of sight of where Dang and Ho met. The victim arrived in an Escalade and the accused boarded the passenger side. Less than a minute later, he was seen exiting and fleeing the scene in footage captured by surveillance cameras.
As Dang fled, Ho stumbled from the passenger seat and then collapsed on a patch of grass nearby. Bystanders and first responders tried to save him, but he died six days later in a hospital.
The victim’s sister, Monique Ho, was among several of her relatives who were present in court almost every day of the trial. She denied her brother ran a gambling operation and said it was heartbreaking to hear people call him a criminal.
“I am not crazy [at Nicol], that’s his job,” Ho said. “But for him to say my brother was a bad person is painful. My brother is already 6 feet under; there is no one who will speak for him.
She described her brother as a peacekeeper in their family who would help mediate the drama between their siblings. She said he looked after her elderly father by bathing him, taking him on dates and picking up groceries for him every weekday morning. He would also bring attention to people in need in his native Vietnam and helped raise funds through social media to build wells and buy a wheelchair for someone who couldn’t afford one.
Dang said he and the victim had worked together for about eight years and took thousands of dollars in bets every week.
“It’s in the hands of the jury now,” Ho said. “But either way, whatever they decide, I want people to know who my brother was.”