July 9, 2008

Accused Dallas-area suburban shooter to be charged with hate crimes

08:39 AM CDT on Wednesday, July 9, 2008
By SCOTT GOLDSTEIN / The Dallas Morning News

A man accused of shooting at men, women and children he never met during a three-day rampage last week will be charged with hate crimes after telling investigators he was targeting specific ethnic groups.

Thai-An Huu Nguyen Thai-An Huu Nguyen, 22, said he shot at motorists he thought were Asian or Hispanic in Garland, Mesquite, Richardson and Plano because of two altercations he had in recent months with people of those backgrounds, police said.

"It was during that last interview [last week] where he admitted to doing the shootings that he told detectives that was his target, it was Hispanics and Asians," Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said.

Based on that admission, the charges against Mr. Nguyen – who emigrated from Vietnam with his family in 2000 – will be filed as hate crimes, significantly increasing the amount of prison time he could receive if convicted, police said.

The details of the incidents that apparently set off the felon are unclear, but Mr. Nguyen indicated that they occurred within the last six months, Officer Harn said.

"He didn't refer to anything that had just happened that made him start shooting that day," Officer Harn said.

When Mr. Nguyen was asked whether the victims were in any other way related to the people with whom he had the disputes he said no.

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Mr. Nguyen was being held Tuesday in the Dallas County Jail in lieu of $600,000 bail. He is charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of deadly conduct, according to jail records.

Even if he posts bail, he will remain in custody on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold, authorities have said. Mr. Nguyen, whose family said is a nursing student, is legally in the U.S. but is not a citizen.

In most of last week's shootings, the gunman missed. But one of the first victims in the spree, Amit Adhikari, was shot in his right hand June 29 while he was stopped at a red light in Garland. The bullets shattered glass, which fell over his girlfriend and her 4-month-old daughter.

"It does kind of surprise me," Mr. Adhikari, 22, a Nepal native, said after learning of the alleged motive Tuesday. "He could have taken someone else's life for no reason."

Another man was shot in the torso at a red light in Garland the same day Mr. Adhikari was shot. His 9-year-old son was in the car but was not injured, police said.

A third shooting occurred in Mesquite that night and another targeted a motorist in Richardson the following day.

On July 1, a motorist was targeted along the Bush Turnpike in Plano.

Hours later, a man drove a black Honda Prelude with an oversized muffler into the parking lot of an Asian restaurant in the 4500 block of West Walnut Street in Garland, police said. He got out, took several steps toward the restaurant and fired two rounds into the wall, just below a row of windows, police said.

Officers stopped a car matching the description of the shooter's about 90 minutes later. Mr. Nguyen was inside, police say, along with a pistol.

During the hours of police interviews that followed, Mr. Nguyen said he did the crimes and outlined his motive, Officer Harn said.

Most, though not all, of the motorists were Hispanic or Asian, police said.

Fred Moss, an associate professor at the Southern Methodist University School of Law, said the ethnicity of the intended targets in this case probably won't make a difference under state law.

"I think that as long as they can show that he selected the persons against who he shot because of this bias against the group, it doesn't make any difference if they were members of the group or not," Mr. Moss said.

This is not the first time Mr. Nguyen has been charged with violent crimes.

In 2006, he was convicted of misdemeanor assault in a case in which a woman was robbed at gunpoint and on a felony charge of failing to render aid in a crash that left a teenage boy with severe head trauma. He was sentenced to six years' probation in all. He also was charged in 2002 with carrying a weapon in a prohibited place.

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