A 48-year-old Orange County Jail inmate was integral in the planning and execution of a daring escape from custody with two others five years ago, a prosecutor told jurors Monday while the defendant’s attorney claimed her client was cowed by fear into going along.
Bac Tien Duong is charged with escape by a prisoner in custody with a pending felony, vehicle theft and kidnapping to commit robbery, all felonies. Co-defendants Hossein Nayeri, 42, and Jonathan Tieu, 25, were expected to go on trial later.
“The defendant was intimately involved in this case,” Deputy District Attorney Jake Jondle told jurors in his opening statement of Duong’s trial.
Duong’s ability to read and speak Vietnamese was critical to fleeing custody as they got help from Duong’s friend Loc Ba Nguyen, Jondle said.
Nguyen pleaded guilty in June 2017 for helping the trio in the Jan. 22, 2016, breakout.
The three gave a list of items to Nguyen that they needed for the breakout. He initially left them a backpack with rope, a knife and clothes attached to a rope at the jail, and later he left a duffel bag with more clothes, two wire cutters and two cellphones near the jail.
Nguyen also dropped off cellphones and a knife at various places near the jail for the trio to pick up when they escaped and got a ride from Nguyen to a residence nearby.
The escapees sawed through a steel grate, half-inch steel bars and made their way through plumbing tunnels before getting to an unsecured part of the jail’s roof, where they rappelled several floors to freedom.
Nguyen called the escapees an unlicensed cab driven by Long Ma, who picked them up in Westminster and took them to a Target store in the city before taking them to another one in Rosemead for $100, Jondle said.
Ma is expected to testify on Wednesday, Jondle said.
They took Ma’s wallet, his phone and his keys and put him in the left rear passenger seat of the car before activating the car’s locks, Jondle said.
Along the way they stayed at several hotels together, Jondle said.
“If Mr. Ma wanted to do anything he had to ask permission,” Jondle said, adding that at the time Ma was 72.
The three drove to 917 W. 85th St. in South Los Angeles, where they met a man who was selling a van on Craigslist, Jondle said.
Duong went on a test ride with the owner and when he agreed to buy the vehicle and the owner went into his home briefly Duong jumped into the van and drove off, Jondle said.
The escapees then “make their way to San Jose and then San Francisco,” Jondle said.
“After five or six days… the honeymoon phase… sours,” Jondle said.
Duong took the gun and made Ma take him back to Santa Ana, Jondle said.
“He told Ma we’ll split the reward” for the capture of the escapees, Jondle said.
Duong turned himself in with help from a friend in the Santa Ana Police Department, Jondle said.
Tieu and Nayeri were caught the next day following a tip from a transient, who ultimately collected the reward.
On the way back to Orange County, Duong “threw the gun either off the (Santa Ana) 5 Freeway or the 101 on his way back,” Jondle said.
Duong’s attorney, Abby Taylor of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, said, “This case is about where fear and facts collide.”
Nayeri at the time was facing charges in the torture and sexual mutilation of a marijuana dispensary owner in a kidnapping for robbery scheme and Tieu was facing murder and attempted murder charges in a gang-related attack, Taylor said.
Duong at the time was facing charges of attempted murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, and theft with a prior felony conviction of driving or taking of a vehicle. He was accused of trying to kill a man and assaulting him with a gun as well as opening fire on a residence in Santa Ana, according to court records.
Taylor said Duong had a lit cigarette put out on his flesh, was beaten and had strangulation marks on him.
“He was afraid for his life,” she said. “He was involved with a very dangerous man and it got out of hand.”
Nayeri “wanted Mr. Ma dead,” and Duong wanted to prevent that so he “finally was able to escape” with the cab driver, Taylor said.
“He took the gun so Mr. Nayeri couldn’t hurt anyone with it,” Taylor said.
Ma did not want to report what happened to the police, but Duong told him, `No, I want to turn myself in, and you should collect reward money,’ ” Taylor said.
“His actions matched up with his words,” Taylor said, adding that her client told Ma, ” `We’re going to get out of this and I’m going to save you,’ and that’s what happens.”
Taylor said that after evidence is presented to the jury they would acquit him of the van theft and kidnapping.
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