|One Shooter or Two in Iko Slaying? Prosecution stumbles over witness testimony|
Published: Friday, 27 June 2008 19:20
Both sides claimed an edge as the first day of preliminary hearings into the Halloween shooting death of 15-year-old Ichinkhorloo “Iko” Bayarsaikhan, wound to a close Thursday.
Quochuy “Tony” Tran, sat stone-faced as the hearing got underway, looking pensive in a light blue T-shirt as he shifted in his chair before Judge Delbert Gee at the Alameda County Superior Court on Shore Line Drive.
But Tran appeared to grow increasingly confident as the proceedings wore on, flashing smiles at friends in the back of the courtroom and rapping his chest with a fist before extending it in a gesture reminiscent of a Romulan salute from TV’s Star Trek as the hearing went into recess.
The hearing, which re-convenes July 11 with a setting conference before resuming July 18, featured the testimony of a single witness who claimed to be standing a foot and a half from Bayarsaikhan when she was struck by a bullet and fell, screaming, to the ground in Washington Park.
According to the witness, Teneujia Bayaraa, the fatal shot rang out a number of seconds after a burst of five or six blasts from a rifle were fired into the air. The exact number of elapsed time between the two gun bursts was not elucidated.
According to statements and evidence previously presented, a second youth, already convicted through the juvenile court system, brought the murder weapon, a .22 caliber rifle, to Washington Park and fired it five or six times into the air during an attempted robbery.
According to the prosecution, the then-16-year-old Tran later gained control of the weapon and fired a final round, which struck and killed Bayarsaikhan.
But the prosecution’s sole witness seemed to weaken the state’s case against Tran Thursday, testifying that both the shooter of the initial fusillade and the person firing the final shot both were wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, suggesting that the same shooter fired all of the bullets.
Defense attorney Robert Beles concluded that the testimony Thursday was “favorable for my client. It’s undisputed that another person who is being held in juvenile detention…brought the gun and fired it into the air … The only evidence I have on my desk is the statement from [the other] fellow, who admitted he fired the warning shots and claimed that my client took the gun from [him] and fired the fatal shot.” Beles suggested that the second youth may have been encouraged to implicate Beles’ client in exchange for leniency.
John Mifsud, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said he wasn’t surprised by what came to light at the hearing. “It was just what we had expected … this case is proceeding as I expected.” Mifsud, who stumbled over the pronunciation of various Mongolian names at the hearing, was brief in his statement, saying that the district attorney’s office does not typically “comment on the evidence.” Mifsud instead re-iterated that his office only pursues cases it thinks it can win. “We charge cases that we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Speaking through an interpreter through two and a half hours of testimony, Bayaraa relayed the chronology of the tragic evening. After sharing a six-pack of beer with three other Mongolian-American teens, including the slain girl’s brother, Sigva, the four joined up with six or seven other Mongolian-American teens at upper Washington Park to hang out.
Bayaraa testified that at some point, out of the darkness, a group of about five or six Asian boys and girls appeared. The youths were wearing dark clothing with hooded sweatshirts drawn up around their faces. The witness said that the shortest member of the smaller group said “What you lookin’ at,” to the 10 or 11 Mongolian-American teens. At first, there was no reaction, but one member of the larger group replied, “Say that in my face,” according to Bayaraa’s testimony.
At this point, a second youth who was slightly taller allegedly said, “Give us your money.” Bayaraa testified that no one in his group paid attention, but that the remark sounded serious. Five or six seconds later, Bayaraa testified, the youth who demanded money pulled out a one-and-a-half to two-foot long shiny firearm from his sleeve, pointed it and fired “four or five times into the air.”
The larger group scattered and Bayaraa said he took shelter behind a tree. The aggressors then began retreating, walking towards the lighted basketball court, Bayaraa said, and a few of his friends began talking and one of them said, “We could take them down.”
Bayaraa said his group called out “hey” towards the other group and began following the armed youths. Suddenly, Bayaraa testified, with the other youths about 45 feet away he heard another gunshot, saw a flash from the weapon and “[Bayarsaikhan] screamed and went down … when she yelled, [the assailants] ran out [towards Webster Street].”
During cross-examination, Bayaraa said that five or six shots were fired in the air. He had earlier stated that four or five shots were fired. When asked by Beles if it was “the same person who fired the gun the second time,” Bayaraa replied, “I think so.”
On re-direct, Bayaraa said he could not identify any of the people in the group of assailants because it was very dark that night, the park has poor lighting and the perpetrators were all wearing hooded sweatshirts.