MODESTO — Two of three defendants accused of murdering three people in a Modesto robbery did not appear in court Wednesday because they were involved in a scuffle while in a holding cell waiting to enter the courthouse.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira said Oloth Dicky Phommahaxay, 20, and Chris Douangkham, 18, were involved in an "altercation" Wednesday morning, and one of them was being examined by jail medical staff.
Phommahaxay, Douang-kham and Sophon Theoun Ting, 17, have been indicted in the shooting deaths of a Modesto couple and their adult daughter during an apparent robbery at their family's market two years ago.
Wednesday's scuffle occurred about 9 a.m. while several inmates were waiting in a holding cell, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman. The cell is in a tunnel, where inmates are brought from the jail to the downtown Modesto courthouse.
The inmates were in the cell restrained with shackles on their wrists and ankles. Singh said deputies heard the scuffle and spotted Phommahaxay, Douang-kham and Tou Vang Xiong fighting.
The deputies ordered the inmates to stop and get on the ground, and they complied. Deputies searched the inmates and the cell, but no weapons were found.
Singh said Douangkham suffered a small cut on his head, but he refused medical treatment. No other injuries were reported.
It's unclear to sheriff's officials why the inmates were fighting, or whether Phommahaxay and Douangkham were fighting each other. None of the inmates wanted to press charges.
Xiong, 28, has been charged with murder in the July 2009 shooting deaths of Merced resident Gao Sheng Her, 23, and Modesto resident Nhia Yang, 27, at a home in the 1700 block of Radley Place in west Modesto. His trial is scheduled to start April 22.
Phommahaxay, Douang-kham and Ting were indicted a year ago, but the case has been stalled and their trial has not been scheduled. Before the judge learned of the jail scuffle, she was going to postpone Wednesday's hearing because one of the defense attorneys was not able to attend.
Silveira continued the hearing until next Wednesday.
Only Ting, who is being held at Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall, appeared in court. He will be 18 years old next week, and the Probation Department is requesting that he be transferred to the adult jail on his birthday.
Robert Winston, Ting's defense attorney, told the judge they can discuss the request to transfer his client during next week's hearing. He didn't indicate whether he will seek to keep Ting at Juvenile Hall.
Ting and Douangkham were minors at the time of the shooting. They are being prosecuted as adults. Douangkham was transferred to the adult jail on his birthday in October.
The defendants, all of Modesto, are charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of Vanh and Phouvieng Thammavongsa and their daughter, Nanci Thammavongsa.
For 15 years, Vanh Thammavongsa, 55, and his wife, Phouvieng, 49, had owned and operated V&V Oriental Market at 1320 Yosemite Blvd., east of Santa Cruz Avenue in Modesto. Nanci Thammavongsa, 28, suffered a developmental disability at birth. She required constant care and usually was with her parents at the market.
Phommahaxay, Douangkham and Ting also are accused of robbery, burglary and participating in a criminal street gang in connection with the market shootings. Police investigators have said the defendants are known members of the CWA Crips street gang.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.