Murder accused claims self-defense in deadly high seas showdown

A man facing murder charges in a rare federal trial told a jury last week that he fought for his life on a late-night lobster fishing trip that had forced him trying to understand the fate of a friend who fell overboard.

Part of Hoang “Wayne” Xuan Le’s solution was to install a GPS tracker on the man’s van and track his movements. Le testified that he did so because he feared that if Tri “James” Minh Dao was alive, Dao would shoot him in revenge for the boat battle, but he also stated that he was interested in collect money from an insurance plan he thought Dao was running.

Prosecutors, however, say Le was actually stalking Dao’s girlfriend, Natalie Nguyen, because he knew Dao was dead and hoped to collect his life insurance policy. In cross-examination on October 19, Le admitted to the assistant to the US police station. Greg Staples that the text messages he sent tracking the van to Arizona weeks after the boat battle referred to Nguyen, not Dao.

Le, now 40, also admitted that he quickly returned to his daily routine of rampant drug use, telling Staples that he used drugs to try and escape his problems.

“And your problem, sir, you let your friend die in the ocean, didn’t you?” Staples asked.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Le replied.

“Sir, you were over three miles from shore, weren’t you?” Staples asked.

“I don’t know how far we were from shore,” Le replied.

Staples and assistant clerk in the United States. Greg Scally says Le, Dao, and their friend Sheila Ritze were about 3.5 miles off the coast of Dana Point harbor on October 15, 2019, on a boat owned by Ritze when Le shot and dumped Dao. in the Pacific Ocean. Le and Ritze are charged with first degree murder; Ritze is due to be tried after Le and has not been in the courtroom for Le’s trial. Both have been in prison since their arrest in December 2019.

During examination-in-chief of his lawyer, Craig Wilke, Le described to jurors how Dao threatened him with a gun and a brief scuffle ensued in which Le fired his own legitimate gun. defense. Investigators only recovered Le’s firearm; Le testified that he threw Dao into the ocean and never saw him again.

The Staples and Scally premeditated murder case is based on testimony from Ritze’s former stepmother, Sandra Ritze, and several Le associates who say the two planned to kill Dao. Sandra Ritze said Dao was with them on a trip to Las Vegas weeks before the murder, and when she asked Shelia who he was, she told him not to worry, let them be. Would “come out” soon.

Vinh Doan said Le insisted on meeting him three days after the murder at Frogg’s Bounce House in Fountain Valley, where Doan took his young daughter to play. Doan said that Le told him that he killed someone on a boat in the ocean and that he never said that Dao threatened him or pointed a gun at him as he now claims.

Tony Haung also said Le told him he killed someone over $ 30,000 to $ 40,000, as did another Le acquaintance Shawn Whalin who also said Le foreshadowed the murder. .

Haung then worked as a confidential informant for the US Coast Guard and carried a recorder, although he said his recording did not capture the confession and instead began immediately afterwards.

Haung testified that he wanted to contact Dao’s brother, Alex Dao, a drug lord and former confidential informant, to tell them what Le had done. “What Wayne told me really gnawed at me. If this happened to my brother, I would like someone to come and tell me what really happened,” Haung said, adding that he had been paid 25 $ 000 by the Coast Guard.

Wilke, who defends Le along with lawyer Sheila Sarah Mojtehedi, has worked to discredit the testimony by showing jurors that every witness is motivated to lie.

Doan didn’t start speaking to investigators until after his federal identity theft arrest on December 23, 2019. He struck a plea deal in July and said his cooperation in Le prosecution could earn him a recommendation. positive from prosecutors. . Whalin was also arrested shortly after Le’s arrest, and has since pleaded guilty to three felonies and is awaiting sentencing.

In his testimony last week, Le said he lied to Whalin that Dao owed him money because he was “just trying to impress Shawn”. He said the debt of $ 30,000 to $ 40,000 “just seemed cool.” But he denied ever telling Whalin that he was planning to kill Dao.

Le said he did not help Dao after he fell into the ocean because “I was just afraid of the situation.”

“I didn’t know how to react,” Le said. “I was just still in shock, like ‘What the hell was going on?’ and I didn’t know what to do.

Le said he did not learn that Dao was dead until he was arrested on suspicion of murder.

The testimony continues on December 1. US District David O. Carter chairs.

Meghann M. Cuniff is a Times OC contributor. She’s on Twitter @meghanncuniff.

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