A 51-year-old woman was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for her part in the robbery-murder of a gambler who was run over by a car following a botched heist.Barbara Ann Hamel persuaded a judge in February 2014 to let her back out of a plea deal that included a 15-year-to-life sentence. She wanted jurors to hear her claim that two co-defendants had her drugged and was unaware of what was happening during the crime.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin said he was “very much so” surprised when Hamel announced she wanted to get out of the December 2013 guilty plea to second-degree murder.
“When she backed out of the deal, I’m fairly confident she was the only one in the room who knew what her plan was,” Yellin said. “Her excuse was so farfetched.”
With credit for time served, Hamel would have been eligible for parole in nine years, Yellin said.
Jurors convicted Hamel on March 30 of first-degree murder, second-degree robbery and attempted second-degree robbery, and found true a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery.
Hamel was behind the wheel of a car speeding away from the botched Sept. 3, 2010, robbery of 55-year-old Chi Ngoc Bui in Santa Ana when she ran over the victim, Yellin said.
Hamel testified that her co-defendants dosed her with GBH, which is commonly used as a date-rape drug, according to her attorney, Kenneth Norelli of the Alternate Defender’s Office.
Co-defendant Tad Allen Carroll, 46, formerly of Buena Park, pleaded guilty in February 2014 to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Another co-defendant, Michael William Ross, 31, formerly of Long Beach, pleaded guilty in September 2013 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Norelli argued that Hamel was not guilty of murder, but should be held accountable instead for involuntary manslaughter. He told jurors that she was too out of it from the drug to take part in the robbery, but should have known better than to get behind the wheel of the getaway vehicle.
“She felt strongly that something was not right” the night of the killing, Norelli said, referring to his client’s claim that she was drugged. “When she put two and two together, the impairment on her part was not her own doing.”
Hamel kept telling detectives during their interrogation that she was tired and confused, Norelli said. An expert testified that the symptoms of which she complained were consistent with someone dosed with the drug, he said.
Yellin showed jurors surveillance video from the Hawaiian Gardens Casino where Bui won about $10,000 the night he was killed. As Bui and his friend, Kim Nguyen, cashed in their chips and left the casino, Ross tailed them and relayed descriptions of the victims via a cell phone, Yellin said.
Nguyen took the wheel of Bui’s car for the drive home to Santa Ana about 4 a.m. because he had been drinking, the prosecutor said.
As Nguyen was looking for a parking space near her residence about 4:30 a.m., the car Hamel and Carroll were in sped up to pass and cut off the victims, Yellin said. Hamel characterized it as a “Batman move” during questioning by police.
Nguyen “slammed on her brakes” and Carroll emerged from the vehicle that cut the victim off, Yellin said. Carroll initially confronted Nguyen to demand money, but she was “frozen in fear,” prompting Carroll to then try to rob Bui in the passenger seat, the prosecutor said.
The 6-foot-4 Carroll towered over the slight, 5-foot-6 Bui, but the victim was determined not to give up his winnings, Yellin said. Bui battled with the knife-wielding Carroll, managing to cut his attacker with the weapon.
Meanwhile, Hamel turned the car around in the cul de sac while Nguyen started running away and dialing 911, Yellin said.
Carroll jumped into the car during Hamel’s getaway, and she ran over the head of Bui, who had been incapacitated during the struggle and was lying on the street, Yellin said. Carroll was shouting how he had been cut in the shoulder area during the fight, the prosecutor said.
A tipster told casino security that Carroll and Ross were involved in the botched robbery, which led authorities to Hamel, Yellin said.
— City News Service
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