SANTA ANA (CNS) - The first of three Orange County Jail inmates to be tried for a brazen January 2016 breakout was convicted today of the escape, but was acquitted of a more serious charge of kidnapping for robbery.
A mistrial was declared on a felony count of unlawful taking of a vehicle in the case against Bac Tien Duong, 48, as jurors split 6-6 on that charge. Jurors will resume deliberations Thursday on a lesser charge of kidnapping.
Co-defendants Hossein Nayeri, 42, and Jonathan Tieu, 25, are awaiting trial.
Duong's attorney, Abby Taylor of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, argued her client was under duress from threats by Nayeri and should not be convicted of anything other than escaping.
Deputy District Attorney Jake Jondle countered that when the inmates called unlicensed cab driver Long Ma, took his phone and forced him to go with them, they were all guilty of crimes beyond the daring Jan. 22, 2016, breakout from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana, in which the escapees got hold of cutting tools to saw through metal gates and used smuggled cell phones to communicate with co-conspirators outside the lockup. They remained on the lam for a week.
“Whether you think he's a direct perpetrator... or an aider and abetter... he is guilty of kidnapping for robbery,'' Jondle said of Duong. “He teamed up with Nayeri and Tieu. He knew what he was getting into. He wants to make you believe he wanted no part of this.''
Ma “begged to be let go,'' the prosecutor said. “In fact, when he was begging, he was told by the defendant, no, you have to come with us as well because traveling with four is less suspicious. There is no evidence whatsoever Mr. Ma consented to being kidnapped.''
Jondle brushed aside Duong's testimony that he was surprised by the violent background of Nayeri, who was then charged and later convicted of the sexual mutilation of a marijuana dispensary owner in a kidnapping-extortion scheme.
Jondle said Duong testified that “it took me by great surprise this was a violent person, and I found myself in a terrible situation kidnapping Mr. Ma. I could never imagine it.''
However, the prosecutor pointed out that the escapees let Ma go back to his home in Garden Grove to pick up his medication.
And Jondle also disputed Duong's testimony of multiple physical struggles with Nayeri while they were on the lam.
“There was only one fight,'' he said. “It happened the night before (Duong) left San Jose (and turned himself in).''
Ma testified there was just one fight between the two, “so apparently these other two or three beatings didn't leave any noticeable marks on the defendant, or Ma didn't see them or ignored them,'' Jondle said. “That's an unreasonable interpretation.''
When Duong ultimately broke away from Nayeri and Tieu and drove back to Orange County to surrender to authorities, “he never told investigators that Nayeri threatened him, not once during eight hours of questioning him,'' the prosecutor said.
Duong, who testified through an interpreter, was facile enough with English to explain that he was threatened with his life or sexual mutilation. “But he never said (Nayeri) would cut my penis off and kill everyone I loved,'' Jondle said.
In fact, the investigator said he was “joking'' with the defendants at times during the questioning, Jondle said.
“That is not like someone who was afraid for their life and were scared,'' he said.
Jondle also disputed the argument that Duong acted under duress.
“The evidence is strong for exactly the opposite,'' he said, pointing to Duong stealing a getaway van.
“They all had a motive to escape,'' Jondle said. “They all had a motive to kidnap to commit robbery. They had all the motive in the world. It's not surprising that three guys in county jail facing life if convicted try to break out and, and it's not surprising that they kidnap someone to rob them and hold them hostage for a week.''
Duong never tried to call police or drive to a police station while on the lam, Jondle said, and “doesn't tell anyone their life is in danger from a psychopath.''
And if he was so intent on having Nayeri held accountable as he drove back to Orange County, he wouldn't have thrown away the gun the escapees had gotten when they broke out, Jondle said.
“He knew what Nayeri was about, and he knew what Tieu was about, and he joined with them,'' Jondle said. “He does nothing a reasonable, ordinary person would do. Nothing.''
Duong left the two other escapees because “something went bad'' in San Jose, Jondle said. “The defendant was tired of being on the run. He said he's done, I've had enough, I'm out of here.''
But all the crimes he was charged with “were committed when he drove away'' with the getaway vehicle with Ma, Jondle told jurors.
“He escaped once. Don't let him do it again,'' the prosecutor said.
Taylor said Nayeri was “the one who planned everything.''
The escape plan was “originally (Nayeri), Tieu and another guy,'' Taylor said. “They decided to bring Bac along... He had been in jail only a couple of months before the escape.''
Taylor said “the case is about where fear and fact collide,'' but did not dispute the charge of escape.
“He got on the stand and told you he was guilty (of escape),'' the defense attorney said.
But when the three were in a Target parking lot in Rosemead “is where everything changes,'' Taylor said. “There was no discussion before this a kidnapping was going to take place.''
According to Taylor, it was then that Nayeri threatened Duong with a knife and told him, “I'll kill you. I'll cut your dick off. I'll kill your stepmother. Do what I tell you.''
When Duong and Ma were alone and making their getaway from Nayeri and Tieu, Ma was gathering his clothes and Duong said, “No, no, we need to hurry,'' Taylor said, maintaining that her client “wanted to go back to jail and he was trying to help'' Ma get away.
Tieu at the time was facing murder and attempted murder charges in a gang-related attack. Duong was in custody on charges of attempted murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and theft with a prior felony conviction of driving or taking of a vehicle. He's still awaiting trial in that case, in which he is accused of trying to kill a man and assaulting him with a gun, as well as opening fire on a residence in Santa Ana.
Taylor said Duong had a lit cigarette rubbed out on his flesh, was beaten and had strangulation marks on him and feared for his life. Duong helped Ma get away because Nayeri wanted the cab driver dead, the defense attorney said.
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