A man involved in the gang-related murder of a teenage boy in Tustin pleaded guilty to an assault charge Friday and was immediately sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Ruon Phi Keo. Photo via Tustin Police Department
Ruon Phi Keo. Photo via Tustin Police Department
Ruon Phi Keo, 32, pleaded guilty to assault with a semiautomatic firearm and admitted a sentencing enhancement allegation for doing so for the benefit of a gang. Murder and attempted murder charges were dropped as part of the plea deal.

Co-defendant John Saway was convicted May 3 of first-degree murder, with jurors finding true a special circumstance allegation that the crime was committed for the benefit of a gang, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Another co-defendant, Sarith Yin, 29, was convicted in January 2012 and sentenced in April of that year to life behind bars. His murder conviction has since been upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal and by a federal court judge.

Yin was the first of eight defendants to go to trial for the Jan. 10, 2010, murder of 16-year-old Juan Carlos Rodriguez, according to Deputy District Attorney Troy Pino. Tustin had gone without a gang-related murder since 1999, he said.

The victim was with a “tagging crew” at the party the night of his slaying, but there was no evidence he was in a gang, Pino said.

Two rival gangs got into a dispute at a party in the 15800 block of Myrtle Avenue, Pino said. Members of one gang left the party and returned later with “the big homies” in their gang, which led to the gunfire about 2 a.m., Pino said.

The victim was hiding behind a tree and was shot while running away, the prosecutor said.

Yin was one of the gunmen, but investigators do not think he shot the teen, according to Pino, who said Saway is believed to have fired the bullet that killed the boy.

Saway’s attorney, Roger Sheaks, argued that his client acted in self- defense.

“There was some ballistic evidence and shell evidence that suggested (the gang members) had fired a warning shot in the air, which is what one witness said,” Sheaks said.

“OK, so they don’t know it’s a warning sign so they shoot back. My argument was the victim was actually struck and killed by (members of a gang he associated with). They shot their own person in the back.”

Another co-defendant was acquitted.

The victim’s family had emigrated to Tustin from Mexico, but returned there shortly after his murder, Pino said.

— City News Service

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