SANTA ANA (CNS) - The last of three inmates who broke out of Orange County Jail in Santa Ana in 2016 pleaded guilty Tuesday and was immediately sentenced to eight years in prison, or time he has already served behind bars.
Jonathan Tieu, 27, pleaded guilty to escape and simple kidnapping, both felonies. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dismissed a car theft count and a more serious kidnapping charge that would have mandated a life sentence.
Tieu was given credit for 2,996 days in jail since his arrest Oct. 5, 2013. The plea deal comes just a few weeks after Hossein Nayeri, the man prosecutors called the mastermind of the escape, was sentenced to just two years and eight months in prison after he beat the most serious charge of kidnapping during a carjacking in his trial, which featured contradictory testimony from the alleged victim in the case, Long Ma.
Nayeri, 44, is also serving two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the sexual mutilation of a marijuana dispensary owner in a kidnapping-extortion scheme.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gary Paer asked Tieu what his plans were now that he will be released from jail.
"I'm going to my mom's house," he said. "She doesn't know yet... I'm going to give her a big old kiss and a hug."
Beyond that, he added, he plans to "get a regular job, you know."
Paer advised him, "You can't afford to get in any more trouble ... Consider this an opportunity. Change gears, you're still young."
Tieu's girlfriend, brother and sister were at the hearing.
"I hope I don't see you again," Paer told Tieu.
"Don't worry, you won't," Tieu replied.
Tieu's attorney, Mark Fredrick, said his client recently donated his hair to the Wigs for Kids charity.
"I've never seen a client in custody this long who didn't have a single write-up and that's Mr. Tieu," Fredrick said after the hearing. "He's a very bright kid. I believe strongly he'll do very well. He's a smart kid, affable, likeable."
Fredrick said given how embarrassing the breakout was to Orange County law enforcement, he was grateful prosecutors were willing to plea bargain his client's case.
"There's a tendency to seek vengeance (rather) than justice, but I'm very pleased that District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Deputy District Attorney David McMurrin sought to seek justice instead of vengeance," Fredrick said.
Given how shaky Ma's testimony was in the trials of the two other defendants, Fredrick said he was confident he could have gotten his client acquitted of the more serious kidnapping charge.
`I strongly believe we could beat the kidnapping charges, but there's so much risk to it, Fredrick said.
Tieu was a young man who made a foolish mistake when he went along with the "charismatic" Nayeri, Fredrick said.
"He was really just a kid," Fredrick said. "He had been in custody for quite a while at that point. Nayeri said he wanted to meet some girls and have a beer when he got out so it's hard to blame someone who probably never had either for going along. And at that point he didn't know his other case would go away."
At the time of the Jan. 22, 2016, escape, Tieu was in custody on a gang-related murder case in Westminster. A jury deadlocked in March 2015 in the case against Tieu, who was a juvenile at the time but was tried as an adult. Changes in state law led to Tieu's case being sent to Juvenile Court, where he was ultimately convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.
Tieu escaped with Nayeri and Bac Tien Duong, 50, from the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana.
Authorities said that with the help of Loc Ba Nguyen, a longtime friend of Duong's, the three inmates were able to obtain supplies they needed to escape. They sawed through obstacles, wriggled through an air vent in the dormitory-style housing and worked their way through plumbing tunnels to the roof of the jail. They then rappelled down with makeshift ropes, and Nguyen picked them up and drove them to a contact of Duong's in Westminster.
They called unlicensed cab driver Long Ma, who took them first to motels in Rosemead and later San Jose, where Duong and Nayeri got into a fight. Duong decided to part ways and brought Ma back with him to Orange County and surrendered on Jan. 29. The next day, Nayeri and Tieu were arrested in San Francisco.
Duong was convicted in April 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison in July. Duong, who was in custody at the time of the escape in an attempted murder case, resolved that case as well when he was sentenced.
Nguyen pleaded guilty in June 2017 for his role aiding the inmates in the escape and was sentenced to a year in jail, but he served his time in home confinement because he said he had a stroke on his sentencing date.