A three-justice appeals panel Monday affirmed the conviction of a former Las Vegas resident who fatally stabbed two men at a private social club in Chinatown in 2017 and was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
Vinh Dao, 40, was convicted in April last year of first-degree murder for the Jan. 26, 2017, killings of Kim Kong Yun and Tony Young, both 64, at the Hop Sing Tong Benevolent Association.
Jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, along with allegations that Dao used a knife in the commission of the crime and that he had a 2002 conviction for voluntary manslaughter.
On appeal, Dao’s attorneys argued that there was insufficient evidence of deliberation and premeditation and that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of prior bad acts.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal found that both an argument before the killing and the fact that Dao stabbed Yun in the neck, which he knew would kill him, supported a finding of deliberation and premeditation in his murder. Rather than fleeing to avoid being caught, Dao instead stabbed Young seven times in the neck and chest, which the panel again said supported the jury’s verdict of deliberation and premeditation.
The panel was also not swayed by the argument about the admissibility of evidence.
According to facts laid out in the panel’s opinion, Dao had been seen at a dinner about a week before the killings carrying a walking cane that concealed a knife.
During a preliminary hearing, three men who were at the club identified Dao in court as the man they saw stabbing Yun in the neck with a knife.
One of the men, Chung Kim Lam, testified that Dao initially wandered around the club and that he eventually heard Yun asking Dao to leave the club and saw him trying to push Dao out the door. According to court documents, Dao had asked to stay overnight at the club and been refused.
The witness testified that Young rushed toward Dao after he pulled out a knife.
“I saw the blood. I was so scared,” Lam said, testifying that he saw Dao trying to chase Young and that he didn’t see what came next because he rushed out of the club.
He said he went to a nearby business to look for a friend to call 911, then later returned and saw Young lying face down on the stairs and Yun on the floor.
Another witness, Jimmy Y. Wong, testified that Dao appeared to be arguing with Young and Yun — who had been playing mah jongg when Dao came into the club — before the defendant pulled out a knife and stabbed Yun twice and then Young three times. He acknowledged telling a police officer the day of the stabbings that he didn’t see what had happened to Young because he ran out of the club.
A third man, Rui Zhou Yu, told the judge that he ran out the club’s back door and called police after seeing Dao stab Yun, who was bleeding from the neck.
An LAPD detective testified that Young was found lying on the stairs and that Yun’s body was found by the front door.
A deputy medical examiner concluded that Young died of stab wounds to the neck and chest and an incision on his left wrist, while another deputy medical examiner concluded that Yun died of a stab wound to the neck.
Police followed a blood trail and DNA evidence outside the club to track down Dao. Later that day, he was treated at Huntington Memorial Hospital for a cut on his hand, but failed to wait for a scheduled surgery.
Dao — who was described by Los Angeles police as a former member of the club who had recently returned to Los Angeles after several years in the Las Vegas area — was arrested in Alhambra about 24 hours later. He was carrying a knife with a 6 1/2-inch blade, a sheathed machete and a map covered in bloodstains, among other bloodied items, according to court documents.
Dao’s ex-girlfriend, also the mother of his children, testified that Dao usually carried knives ranging from a pocketknife to a machete, and that he once threatened to slit her throat and kill their children if she left him or kept the children away from him.
When he took the stand in his own defense, Dao said the victim in the 2001 manslaughter had attacked him in tandem with as many as six other people, and he overreacted because of his childhood experiences in a refugee camp.
He denied killing Yun and Young, saying he found them in the club spattered with blood, and was himself attacked by their killer.