A state appeals court panel upheld a man’s conviction Wednesday for a drive-by shooting that killed an 8-year-old boy who was visiting a Pomona home that was also shot at three other times within about two months.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the evidence of Sengchan Houl’s guilt was “overwhelming.”
Houl was convicted in December 2018 of one count each of first-degree murder and shooting from a motor vehicle for the Feb. 20, 2017, killing of Jonah Hwang, along with two counts each of shooting at an occupied dwelling and negligent discharge of a firearm. Jurors also found true a special circumstance allegation that the murder involved a firearm being discharged from a motor vehicle.
The child, who had been brought home from a Taiwanese orphanage less than three years earlier, was with his family having dinner with friends who lived in the house when the defendant drove by and opened fire, authorities said.
Houl also shot at the same home on one occasion before the murder and then again twice after the boy’s killing, according to police and prosecutors. Police said the home was unoccupied during those shootings.
In their 21-page ruling, the appellate court justices noted that cell phone records placed Houl’s cell phones in the area of the crime scene at the time of the shootings and that a Smith & Wesson pistol that investigators discovered when they detained him was subsequently linked to the crimes. The defendant’s truck also matched the description of the vehicle caught on surveillance camera immediately after shootings at the same property on two occasions in March 2017, according to the panel.
“Finally, defendant’s February and March internet searches for news articles about the shootings demonstrates not only that the shootings were on his mind, but also a consciousness of guilt,” the panel found.
The family that owned the home had no known enemies, left the home the night that Hwang was killed and never lived there again, according to the appellate court panel’s ruling.
Houl was sentenced in January 2019 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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