A prosecutor on Tuesday told a jury that a murder defendant used an automatic rifle to execute two people “in cold blood” inside a small west Modesto home four years ago.
Deputy District Attorney John Baker said Tou Vang Xiong shot his girlfriend, Gao Sheng Her, and her brother, Nhia Yang, at close range after an argument enraged him.
“It was a night of terror,” Baker said of the shooting.
Ruben Villalobos, Xiong’s defense attorney, told jurors they won’t have to worry about who fired the gun that killed the two people and nearly killed a third person who escaped and survived his gunshot wounds. He said it’s clear his client shot three people and assaulted a fourth victim that day.
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Villalobos asked the jury to listen to all the evidence in the case, especially the strange things his client was saying the day of the shooting.
“There was no motive for the premeditated killing of those people in the room,” Villalobos said in court. “This was a drug case that ended up in death.”
Xiong’s trial started Tuesday with the attorneys’ opening statements in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
The defendant is charged with two counts of murder, 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.
The defense attorney told the jurors that Xiong, Her and Yang had smoked a lot of methamphetamine that day. He plans to call an expert to testify about “methamphetamine psychosis.”
Villalobos asked the jury to consider what effects meth has on someone’s mind. He argued that his client didn’t think he was attacking his girlfriend and her family that early morning. “He thought he was dealing with tigers and demons,” Villalobos said about statements his client made that day.
The prosecutors said the defendant has changed his story about what led to the shooting. The victims were gunned down about 5:20 a.m. July 20, 2009.
He initially told investigators he was asleep and woke up to find his girlfriend and her brother shot, according to Baker. The defendant said he had a premonition that two people would be shot and he would be blamed. Later, Xiong said he knew the surviving victim also was shot, because he counted backward and envisioned the shooting.
“He’s been all over the board with police,” Baker said in court.
The prosecutor said the defendant now claims he thought he was shooting at demons because he he smoked a lot of crystal meth. Baker argued that Xiong initially told a detective he smoked two hits of meth that produced no effect on him.
The victims and the defendant were in a small, detached room behind a house on Radley Place. Baker told the jurors that Xiong and his girlfriend were arguing, screaming at each other. The surviving victim returned to the room and found them arguing.
Xiong grabbed the AR-15 automatic rifle and fired a shot into the ceiling. Baker said Xiong then turned into “a killing machine,” aiming the gun at his girlfriend and shooting her multiple times.
The prosecutor told the jury she was shot in the face, neck and abdomen. He said one of the bullets ripped through her finger and struck her face, indicating she had raised her hand to protect herself from the rifle’s aim. That wound, Baker said, caused “massively destructive” injuries. She died quickly.
When Xiong turned the gun on Yang inside the room, Baker said the defendant was heard saying, “This is what you get.” The prosecutor told the jury the defendant fired nine shots into Yang.
He said bullets struck Yang’s chest, abdomen and head, which caused “massive fracturing” at the base of his skull. Yang also died quickly.
The surviving victim was shot in the face and arm as he ran from the room. He ran about two blocks and hid in the back yard of a vacant home, where he called 911. The prosecutor played for the jury the recording of the 911 call.
He tells the dispatcher who shot him, calling the shooter “LT.” The prosecutor said Xiong is known to others as “LT.” As the dispatcher tries to determine the victim’s location, he says, “I’m bleeding to death.” He tries to whisper his location to the dispatcher, worried the shooter might find him.
“This is a man who was in fear,” Baker said about the surviving victim. “He was about to die.”
Baker told the jurors that Xiong assaulted another of his girlfriend’s relatives as he tried leave the area before police arrived. He aimed the rifle at a woman living in the front house, ordering her to call his father because he wanted a ride home.
Xiong is from Atwater. His girlfriend, 23-year-old Her, was from Merced. Yang, 27, was from Modesto.
As Xiong walked out through the front of the house, Baker said the frightened woman locked the door behind him. The prosecutor said Xiong went across the street, where his extended family members lived. He asked them for a ride to his father’s home. “He knows he has to get away,” Baker told the jurors.
Instead, nobody gave Xiong a ride. He was there when police arrived and was taken into custody.
Villalobos told the jury his client had access to a vehicle that morning, but he didn’t leave after the shooting. He said the evidence will show Xiong wasn’t trying to get away.
The defense attorney also argued that the shooting was not the result of a “lovers’ spat,” and there was no indication of escalating violence between Xiong and his girlfriend.
“My client was deeply in love with the woman he killed,” Villalobos said.
He asked the jurors to consider what was going on in that room in the days before the shooting. Villalobos anticipates his client will testify in the trial and tell the jury what happened in that room.
The defense attorney asked the jury to listen to the testimony. He is seeking a verdict that results in a charge less serious than murder.
The trial is expected to continue with testimony Thursday and will last a few weeks. Xiong, 29, remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.