Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CHARLES NG: CHEATING DEATH

A Costly Endeavour

Ng enters courtroom (AP)
Ng enters courtroom (AP)

After dozens of appeals and a seemingly endless round of hearings, the Canadian government finally acceded to the Californian government's request and agreed to extradite Charles Ng on September 26, 1991. Within minutes of his release, Ng was flown to McClellan Air Force base where he was transferred to Folsom prison in Sacramento to await trial. What followed were the most drawn out, costly criminal proceedings in US criminal history, even outstripping the infamous O.J. Simpson case. Ng used every point of law that he and his string of attorneys could muster to delay trial proceedings against him.

The site for the trial was to be San Andreas but Ng constantly filed actions against the state of California, making formal complaints on matters ranging from alleged poor treatment and bad food to the claim that he was forced to take medication for motion sickness during the fifty-mile trip to the courthouse, which he claimed, made him drowsy and unable to take part in pre-trial proceedings. He gained further delays by dismissing his attorneys at regular intervals and later filed a $1 million malpractice suit against them for incompetence. At one stage he filed a motion with the San Andreas court applying for the right to represent himself but later withdrew it.

Ng in court, under guard (AP)
Ng in court, under guard (AP)

The delaying tactics continued as Ng's attorneys applied to have the trial moved to Orange County as they believed that their client would not receive a fair trial in San Andreas. In support of this motion the attorneys tabled an independent survey indicating that 95% of the residents of Calaveras County already considered Charles Ng guilty of the Wilseyville murders. These and other motions were brought before the California Supreme court no less than five times until finally, on April 8, 1994, a San Andreas judge upheld the motion and ordered the trial moved to Santa Ana in Orange County. This action caused further delays when Orange County officials objected to the order on the grounds that the county was virtually bankrupt and unable to bear the costs of such a trial. The issue was eventually resolved when the state of California agreed to pay any costs incurred.

More years of legal wrangling ensued as Ng changed attorneys who in turn asked for further adjournments to prepare their case. At one point during the proceedings, Ng was housed in a small cage between appearances, as he was considered "highly dangerous." The cage was later removed when a Federal magistrate described its use as "barbarous." Even before the actual trial began, Ng had appeared before six different judges in a case that had amassed over six tons of evidence and other legal documents at a cost approaching $10 million.

Prosecutor Sharlene Honnaka (AP)
Prosecutor Sharlene Honnaka (AP)

In October 1998 after thirteen years of delays and extended legal arguments, the trial of Charles Chitat Ng began. For the next few months, the jury, the media and the families and friends of the victims, heard state prosecutor Sharlene Honnaka relate how Leonard Lake and Charles Ng had selected and kidnapped their victims before taking them to the Wilseyville site where they sadistically tortured, raped and murdered them. To support the state's case, Honnaka submitted the videos that were found at the site that clearly showed Ng and Lake torturing and abusing Kathy Allen and Brenda O'Connor. Evidence, including stolen property and photographs were also tabled further linking both men to the victims. Honnaka also attempted to submit excerpts from Lake's diaries as evidence but Judge John J. Ryan refused to admit them, ruling that most of the material submitted bore no relevance to the case. Part of Lake's military record was also withheld.

William Kelly (AP)
William Kelly (AP)

The defence countered, claiming that Ng was an unwilling accomplice to the more dangerous and demented Lake who was responsible for the murders while Ng merely participated in some of the sexual offences. Towards the end of the proceedings, Ng damaged his own case when he insisted on taking the stand, a move which allowed prosecutors to present additional evidence, including a picture of Ng in his cell showing the incriminating cartoons behind him on the wall next to a motto which read, "No kill, no thrill no gun, no fun."

William Kelley, Ng's court appointed attorney, attempted to regroup by calling Claralyn Balasz to give evidence in support of his client even though the prosecution had previously granted her immunity. He later changed his mind when Judge Ryan advised him that Balasz had made prior statements implicating Ng.

Ng sits passively as his sentence is read <br />(AP)
Ng sits passively as his sen-
tence is read (AP)

Finally, after a trial lasting eight long months, all the evidence had been heard and the jury retired to consider a verdict. Within hours they returned. They found Charles Chitat Ng guilty of the murder of six men, three women and two baby boys. The charge of murdering the seventh man, Paul Cosner, had been dropped previously owing to insufficient evidence.

Judge Ryan then followed the jury's recommendation and imposed a sentence of death even though he had the option of sentencing Ng to life imprisonment.

Families of the victims react to the verdict <br />(AP)
Families of the victims react to the verdict
(AP)

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