Family 'in shock' over teen accused of killing detective

Jimmy Siackasorn, 16, was in Sacramento court Dec. 24, 2007. He is accused of killing Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Vu Nguyen, who grew up in Modesto. (Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee).
Jimmy Siackasorn, 16, was in Sacramento court Dec. 24, 2007. He is accused of killing Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Vu Nguyen, who grew up in Modesto. (Jose Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee). Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

SACRAMENTO -- The gray sweat shirt seemed to swallow the 5-foot-4-inch frame of inmate No. 3780249. Chains clanked around his ankles as he shuffled into a crowded Sacramento County courtroom.

There for all to see stood the person accused of gunning down a Sacramento County sheriff's detective. The defendant: Jimmy Siackasorn, age 16.

Because he is a juvenile, prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty.

Since his December court appearance, Siackasorn has not entered a plea to the charges that he killed Detective Vu Nguyen.

Nguyen, 37, grew up in Mo- desto and graduated from Mo- desto High School in 1989. His family came to the United States the day before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Vu Nguyen was 5 when his family escaped Vietnam in the U.S. Embassy airlift.

Because of Siackasorn's age, members of his family say they've tried for weeks to understand what could have gone so terribly wrong to lead to the Dec. 19 shooting. They know it is their last name now linked to violence and tragedy.

"I'm in shock," his 26-year-old aunt, Gina Siackasorn, said outside her father's south Sacramento home last week. "I really don't believe he's a bad, bad kid."

But there were signs of trouble, she said. He had quit going to school, became detached from his family, argued with his mother and would disappear for days.

Authorities say that when he was in grade school, Siackasorn joined a gang. Shortly after his arrest, Sheriff John McGinness said the suspect was a product of a gang "subculture where life has no value."

Hopes for the future

It was a stark departure from the life his grandfather had dreamed of after the family fled trouble and violence in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam War.

The grandfather, 63-year-old Xieng Siackasorn, said he held high hopes for his family and the next generation when the family fled Laos in 1980.

Jimmy Siackasorn was born in Sacramento 11 years later, in January 1991.

Sitting at a makeshift table under an oak tree in his yard, the elder Siackasorn said through a Laotian translator that he wanted his children to have a good education, a successful future.

Months after Siackasorn's birth, his father died.

Relatives said his mother moved in with another man who never accepted him as a son. Siackasorn's mother, Pieng, could not be found for comment.

Siackasorn's juvenile court record is sealed, and he is being prosecuted as an adult. A source close to the investigation said Siackasorn has had numerous brushes with the law and that when he was 10, he was removed from his family and became a ward of the court.

The source, who is not authorized to release the suspect's background and declined to be identified, said Siackasorn told officers he was a gang member during a booking interview at age 12.

That interview came after his arrest on a nonviolent charge, the source said, and was followed by an arrest in December 2003 and again in 2006 on nonviolent charges. The outcome of those cases is sealed in court records.

In June, the teenager was placed in a group home, the source said. It was not clear when he left.

In recent months, Gina Siackasorn said, her nephew and his mother and older sister had moved from place to place, a duplex on 45th Avenue, then a worn apartment around the corner.

About two months ago, Siackasorn and his mother moved into her father's two-bedroom rental home on 37th Street, just a few blocks from where Nguyen was killed.

Under the grandfather's roof, there were rules to obey, including a 9 p.m. curfew and helping with chores.

But Gina Siackasorn said her nephew preferred to "kick it" with friends. He would hang out with anybody, she said, as though he were hungry for attention and acceptance. He wanted to be cool, she said.

"It's like he forgot who his family is," she said.

Xieng Siackasorn said the family tried to get him back into school, and during the short time Siackasorn and his mother lived with him, the grandfather told his daughter to take control of her son.

"If you don't know what to do, report him to the cops," Gina Siackasorn said, translating for her father on what he told the teenager's mother.

Siackasorn and his mother left shortly after that ultimatum.

Gina Siackasorn said they haven't heard from or seen her nephew or his mother since. She left no forwarding address, no phone number.

Hunting for a killer

Then, a week before Christmas, their neighborhood was under siege. A deputy had been shot to death and a massive manhunt was under way to find his killer.

Xieng Siackasorn said detectives showed up at his home and he and other family members were questioned about Jimmy Siackasorn.

According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, Siackasorn was the "young Asian male" spotted Dec. 19 outside a home of gang members by Nguyen and his partner.

The teenager saw the detective and took off running, the department said. Nguyen chased him through back yards near 37th Street and 42nd Avenue.

Gunshots rang out. Nguyen was shot in the neck. He died a short time later.

Authorities say the detective didn't fire any shots from his semiautomatic handgun.

Siackasorn was charged with firing a .22-caliber revolver that killed Nguyen and committing the crime to benefit a street gang, stiff enhancements to the murder count that includes the special circumstance of killing an officer in the line of duty.

He faces life in prison if convicted.

Efforts to reach Siackasorn at the Sacramento County juvenile hall have been unsuccessful. Sue Karlton of the public defender's office has refused media contact with her client.

Siackasorn is scheduled to return to court Jan. 28, three days after he turns 17.