SANTA ANA (CNS) - No matter the level of his involvement, a 48-year-old man who broke out of Orange County jail with two other inmates should be also convicted of kidnapping and robbery for taking a taxi driver's phone and forcing him to drive them away, a prosecutor argued Tuesday while the defendant's attorney said her client acted under duress.
Bac Tien Duong is charged with escape by a prisoner in custody with a pending felony, vehicle theft and kidnapping to commit robbery, all felonies. Co-defendants Hossein Nayeri, 42, and Jonathan Tieu, 25, were expected to go on trial later.
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 Jan. 22, 2016 breakout, Deputy District Attorney Jake Jondle argued.
“Whether you think he's a direct perpetrator... or an aider and abetter... he is guilty of kidnapping for robbery,'' Jondle said. “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,'' Jondle 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.''
Authorities were looking for three escapees, so four men might be less suspicious, Jondle argued.
“There is no evidence whatsoever Mr. Ma consented to being kidnapped,'' Jondle said.
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,'' Jondle said. “It happened the night before (Duong) left San Jose (and turned himself in).''
Ma testified there was just one fight between the two, Jondle said.
“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.''
Duong testified through an interpreter, but Jondle said the defendant 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,'' Jondle said.
Jondle disputed the argument that Duong acted under duress.
“The evidence is strong for exactly the opposite,'' Jondle 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.
“He doesn't tell anyone their life is in danger from a psychopath,'' Jondle said.
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 is charged with “were committed when he drove away'' with the getaway vehicle with Ma, Jondle argued.
“He escaped once,'' Jondle said. “Don't let him do it again.''
Duong's attorney, Abby Taylor of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, said Nayeri was “the one who planned everything.''
The escape 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.''
The defense attorney did not dispute the charge of escape.
“He's guilty'' of escape, Taylor said. “He got on the stand and told you he was guilty (of escape).''
But when the three were in the “Target parking lot'' in Rosemead, “is where everything changes,'' Taylor said.
“There was no discussion before this a kidnapping was going to take place,'' Taylor said.
According to Taylor, in the parking lot, Nayeri “displayed the knife'' and told Duong, “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.
“Bac wanted to go back to jail and he was trying to help'' Ma get away, Taylor argued.
Tieu at the time was facing murder and attempted murder charges in a gang-related attack. Duong at the time was facing 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 was accused of trying to kill a man and assaulting him with a gun as well as opening fire on a residence in Santa Ana, according to court records.
Taylor said Duong had a lit cigarette put out on his flesh, was beaten and hand strangulation marks on him and feared for his life.
Duong helped Ma get away because Nayeri wanted the cab driver dead, Taylor said.
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