Two condemned Santa Clara County killers should remain on California's death row for the 1991 torture and murder of a 73-year-old San Jose woman, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected a bid by convicted murderers Stephen Hajek and Loi Tan Vo to overturn their nearly two-decade-old death sentences. The court did set aside a special circumstance finding of committing the murder by lying in wait, but left intact other convictions, including torture, that kept them eligible for the death penalty.
A jury in 1995 convicted the two men of tricking their way into a home and killing Su Chieh Hung, who was vacationing from Taiwan and staying with her daughter. Hajek and Vo killed the woman by garroting her with a rope and slashing her throat.
At trial, prosecutors alleged that the two men entered the home looking for Hung's 16-year-old granddaughter because they were seeking revenge over an argument earlier that week at a San Jose ice cream shop. Hajek and Vo were in their early 20s when they were sentenced to death.
During the crime, the two men tied up Hung's 10-year-old granddaughter, and later kidnapped other family members who arrived at the home as the events unfolded. The state Supreme Court concluded there was substantial evidence to uphold the convictions.
Defense lawyers during trial maintained that Hajek was mentally ill at the time of the crimes, but the Supreme Court rejected that argument. Vo's lawyer told the jury at trial that he was simply helping Hajek and had no inkling of his plans to attack family members.
Hajek and Vo are still a long way from a firm execution date. Both men have remaining appeals in the state Supreme Court if they can introduce any new evidence and then have appeals in the federal courts, a process that ordinarily takes another decade or longer.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz