A man was convicted Monday of killing his live-in girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in Garden Grove more than six years ago.
Lae Thongphun, 33, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child assault causing death and faces 25 years to life in prison, with sentencing scheduled for Feb. 5.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Mendelson told jurors — who deliberated over two days before reaching their verdict — that Thongphun dealt the killing blow to Fox Chau Le.
The defendant’s attorney argued there was no evidence his client inflicted deadly wounds on the boy, although he, along with his girlfriend and the child’s biological father, physically disciplined the toddler.
Mendelson said it was “a clear case of Battered Child Syndrome,” telling jurors that
Thongphun “punished” the child in ways that “went above physical discipline” and became “torture.”
Thongphun would “repeatedly strike (the victim) simply because he refused to stop crying or take his shoes off,” the prosecutor said.
Fox’s sister, Aubri, who was 4 years old at the time, told investigators that she saw Thongphun step on her sibling’s stomach the night he became violently ill and was pronounced dead at a hospital on Aug. 28, 2009, Mendelson said.
“Now, at the age of 10, she still harbors guilt that she wasn’t able to prevent what happened to her younger brother,” the prosecutor said.
Thongphun moved into a two-bedroom apartment with this then-girlfriend, Marykay Concepcion, about six months before her son died, Mendelson said. Concepcion had separated from the boy’s father, Chau Le, the prosecutor sad.
On the night her son died, Concepcion went out to celebrate her recent birthday with friends, leaving both her children with Thongphun, Mendelson said. The defendant called 911 and told a dispatcher the boy was “coughing up blood.”
Mendelson showed jurors autopsy photos of the 27-month-old boy’s wounds, which included burns to his armpits.
Weeks prior to his death, Concepcion took her son to Garden Grove Medical Center on June 13, 2009, after he had been vomiting for several days, Mendelson said. Doctors prescribed an anti-nausea medication, sent him home and told his mother to have a follow-up visit with a doctor, the prosecutor said.
Concepcion agreed to testify in the trial after accepting a plea deal. She did not have insurance at the time her son was ill and never took him to see a physician, Mendelson said. Concepcion pleaded guilty Nov. 6 to misdemeanor child abuse and endangerment.
Fox was in the lower percentile for his age in weight, Mendelson said. A medical expert told investigators the boy died from a blow to the abdomen that severed an artery, Mendelson said.
Dr. Anthony Juguilon, who heads up the company that does autopsies for Orange County, told investigators the victim had sustained “repeated beatings,” with some wounds a day old and some several weeks old, Mendelson said.
Thongphun’s attorney, Ray Chen, said his expert, Dr. Janice Ophoven, concluded the victim died because his mother did not take him in for a follow- up visit with a doctor and that two months later “the dam burst.”
The attorney challenged the assertion that Fox was underweight, saying his parents were also below average height and weight. Also, the boy had only two checkups before going to a hospital in June 2009, Chen said.
Fox continued his vomiting spells for 10 days after he was discharged from a hospital, but then started feeling better, Chen said. Concepcion took her son to the hospital at the urging of her mother, who is a registered nurse, the defense attorney said.
It’s not clear what caused the toddler’s internal injury that led to hemorrhaging, Chen said, tellin jurors there was no “credible evidence that Mr. Thongphun did anything that night that could have caused such extensive bleeding.”
The victim’s sister told her foster parents months after her brother died that she recalled seeing the defendant step on Fox’s stomach, Chen said. But the attorney claimed the way the child was questioned by authorities helped shape her answers.
— Wire reports
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