Father acquitted in '89 toddler death
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
A Circuit Court jury deliberated for about four hours after a two-week trial before finding a former McCully man not guilty of killing his 3-year-old stepdaughter more than 14 years ago.
Chau Dang, 48, was charged with second-degree murder. He was accused of striking Melissa Dang in 1989 and failing to get medical attention in a timely manner.
An autopsy revealed that Melissa had suffered a ruptured bowel caused by blunt trauma. The injury led to peritonitis, a deadly infection.
Although the case was classified as a homicide, it was not until nationally recognized pediatric forensic pathologist Dr. Janice Ophoven reviewed O'ahu's deaths involving children that Dang and his former wife, Hao, were charged with second-degree murder. The indictment came more than 10 years after Melissa died.
In June, Hao Dang pleaded no contest to one count of manslaughter. As part of a plea agreement, she received five years probation and agreed to testify against her ex-husband.
Yesterday's quick verdict announced in Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall's courtroom caught prosecutors and the defense by surprise.
City Deputy Prosecutors Glenn Kim and Maurice Arrisgado both said they were disappointed.
The quick verdict "seems to imply that they had made up their minds," Kim said of the jurors. "They didn't seem to agonize much over it. That's not to necessarily fault them, but that's why it's kind of especially disappointing."
Defense attorney Sam King Jr. disagreed, and said the jury came to the correct conclusion.
"It's a hard case for everybody," King said. "Basically, what it showed is that you can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt who did what to this girl. There's not enough evidence to say who did what."
Kim said he believed that enough evidence was presented to prove Chau Dang inflicted the fatal blow and did not seek timely medical attention. But because the only witnesses were the defendants, Kim said he understood the verdict.
"Because they're circumstantial cases, the medical evidence becomes very, very important," he said. "It's difficult for a jury, and even a judge, when it's a battle-of-expert-witnesses type of situation. (Jurors) have to be pretty sure before they convict somebody of murder."
Melissa's death was the last of the cases reviewed by Ophoven that resulted in indictments. Kim said a "large majority" of the cases had led to a conviction.
King said Chau Dang, who lives in Houston, plans to return to the Mainland soon.
Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.