MODESTO — A defense attorney on Thursday told a jury that his client took the lives of his girlfriend and his friend when he shot them at close range inside a small west Modesto home, but hes not guilty of murder.
Ruben Villalobos argued that defendant Tou Vang Xiong was under the influence of methamphetamine and was experiencing hallucinations when he fired an automatic rifle at girlfriend Gao Sheng Her and friend Nhia Yang. For those reasons, he said, his client should be found guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Were asking you to come back with a verdict thats consistent with the evidence, Villalobos told the jurors.
Deputy District Attorney John Baker argued that the amount of meth in the defendants body was nowhere near the toxic level, and that Xiong was not hallucinating. The prosecutor said Xiong is no different from the angry drunk who shoots his wife or gets behind the wheel and kills someone on the road.
He picked up an AR-15 (rifle), a very real weapon, to kill very real people, Baker told the jury. He fired with a purpose.
The attorneys presented their closing arguments in Xiongs trial. Along with two counts of murder, Xiong, an Atwater resident, is charged with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the incident at the home in the 1700 block of Radley Place, a few blocks east of Paradise Road in west Modesto.
Testimony indicated that Xiong also shot Lee Pao Yang, but he escaped and survived his injuries. The assault with the deadly weapon charge stems from Xiong holding Yangs sister at gunpoint and demanding she help him escape, according to her testimony.
The jury began its deliberations about 3:10 p.m. Thursday and is expected to resume deliberating this morning for a few hours. If they do not reach a verdict, the jury is expected to return Monday to continue.
The shooting occurred about 5:20 a.m. July 20, 2009, inside a detached room where Nhia Yang lived. His family lived in the main house in front.
I call it a death room; not to be dramatic, the prosecutor told the jury. This is what it is, a death room.
The defense attorney stressed that the incident wasnt a gang shooting or a drug deal gone bad. These are people who were friends and did drugs together, Villalobos said. Not only was that a death house, but it was a drug den.
He argued that his client and the gunshot victims used a lot of meth for several hours before the shooting. Forensic psychologist Alex Yufik testified that Xiong was experiencing a meth-induced psychosis when he fired the rifle.
Lee Pao Yang testified that Xiong appeared very angry after a lengthy argument with his girlfriend. He said the couple fought because Xiong wanted to have sex and she didnt.
The defendants motivation is power the power the weapons bring him, Braker argued. Gao stood in his way that night, and she defied his wishes. And she died for it.
Authorities said Xiong first fired the rifle five times into the ceiling, and the people in the room waited in silence for about 20 seconds before the defendant fired the rifle at his girlfriends face, according to Lee Pao Yang. The surviving victim turned to escape, authorities said, but not before bullets from the rifle hit his arms and chin.
Yang testified that he then heard Xiong say in an angry tone, This is what you get, Nhia. He said he then heard a couple more shots before running away. Xiongs girlfriend and Nhia Yang died quickly in the room, according to prosecutors.
Baker argued that Xiongs statement to Nhia Yang is clear evidence that the defendant intended to kill the victims and wasnt hallucinating. The prosecutor asked the jury to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
The defense attorney challenged Lee Pao Yangs credibility. Lee Pao Yang said Xiong and his girlfriend argued for about an hour before the shooting, but Villalobos said Nhia Yangs sister didnt hear any arguing before she was awakened by popping sounds.
Yangs sister found Xiong carrying the rifle and a pistol after the shooting. She testified that Xiong told her: You guys set those tigers on me. She also said tigers is a derogatory term commonly used in Hmong culture, and she assumed he was talking about the Yang family.
She locked herself inside her familys home as Xiong ran out front. He crossed the street, seeking help from neighbors to get to his fathers home.
Villalobos pointed out that Xiong spoke of killing two tigers and that one of them got away. He also argued that a neighbor said Xiong was acting abnormally, but not threatening as he sought help.
He was hallucinating, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defense attorney said.
The prosecutor warned the jurors not to believe the defendants claim that he was so high on meth that he didnt know who he was shooting. He argued that Xiong brutally murdered two people and severely injured a third.
The defendant was cold, calculating and cruel, Baker told the jury.