A woman shared with a Stanislaus County jury Monday the last words she heard her brother say moments before he was shot to death with an automatic rifle inside their west Modesto home.
Xay Yang testified that her brother, Nhia Yang, said something like “Hey, man,” just before she heard shots fired inside a detached room behind her family’s home in the 1700 block of Radley Place.
“He sounded frightened,” Yang said, fighting back tears. “It seemed like he was confused with the situation.”
A prosecutor has said in court that bullets struck 27-year-old Nhia Yang’s chest, abdomen and head.
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Yang’s sister testified about what she heard and later saw early in the morning on July 20, 2009. Tou Vang Xiong of Atwater is on trial, accused of murder in the shooting of his girlfriend, Gao Sheng Her, and Nhia Yang.
The prosecutor says Xiong fired a rifle at three people that morning after an argument with his girlfriend enraged him. Two people were killed and a third was injured, but he escaped and survived.
Ruben Villalobos, Xiong’s defense attorney, doesn’t dispute that his client fired the rifle at the victims. But he argued that Xiong didn’t realize what he was doing because he and the two homicide victims had smoked a lot of methamphetamine.
Nhia Yang lived in the detached room behind his family’s home. It was a small room with no bathroom or kitchen.
His sister was inside her bedroom sleeping; she awoke to loud “popping” sounds. It was about 5:20 a.m.
She looked out her window when she heard her brother’s voice.But she couldn’t see what was going on inside the detached room. Then, she heard a few more shots fired. She didn’t hear her brother’s voice again.
She frantically ran to the French doors that lead to the backyard and the detached room. She cracked it open a few inches and saw Xiong. “He was holding a rifle and a handgun,” she testified.
Xiong had the rifle pointed toward the detached room’s entrance, and he looked like he was cautious of others in the room, Xay Yang told the jury. When she made eye contact with him, she said, Xiong told her: “You guys set those tigers on me.”
Xiong demanded that she call his father, but she told him the house phone didn’t make long-distance calls. He then ordered her outside, toward the detached room.
“He wanted to show me where the bodies were,” Xay Yang said on the witness stand. “He had the handgun pointed at me.”
She said the handgun was just inches from her forehead. “I remember seeing inside into the barrel. He told me that he had killed two tigers,” Xay Yang said.
The defense attorney has argued in court that his client’s statements that day about tigers and demons are indications that he was under the harmful narcotic effect of heavy meth use. He plans to call an expert to testify about “methamphetamine psychosis.”
Xay Yang testified that in the Hmong culture people commonly use the word “tiger” as a derogatory term for people they dislike. Yang, who is Hmong, said she assumed Xiong was referring to people in the Yang family he didn’t like when he used the word “tigers.”
Xiong told her to drive him home or what happened in the detached room would happen to her, she testified. “I was terrified,” she said.
Xay Yang didn’t go inside the detached room although Xiong ordered her to. Instead, she walked up to the room’s entrance and looked inside. She said she saw her brother’s body on the couch and that he appeared dead. She testified that Xiong kept the handgun pointed at her.
“He asked me if I was scared,” she testified. “He seemed very proud of what he had done.”
She said Xiong made her raise her right hand and swear to help him or a thousand future generations of the Yangs would be cursed. She complied with his demand. She testified that Hmong people who fail to fulfill a promise can be cursed, and the threat is taken seriously.
Xay Yang told Xiong she needed to get her keys from the house so she could take him home. The prosecutor has said she let Xiong walk out of the home, then locked the door behind him. Xiong was taken into custody a short time later outside the home.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.