Press Ousted From Ngor Slay Trial

Reporters were ousted Monday from the trial of three men charged in the killing of Oscar-winner Haing Ngor when they refused to comply with a "blackout" order issued by the judge.

Superior Court Judge J.D. Smith said he was issuing a "blackout" on the opening statements because of the unusual nature of the trial, which has three juries. Each jury was scheduled to hear a separate opening statement.

He asked reporters in the courtroom to agree that if they stayed, they would not report what was said by Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum as he outlined his case against the three men. The Associated Press told the judge it could not agree to withhold information.

"In that case, all press is out of the courtroom," the judge declared.

A handful of reporters in court left and opening statements proceeded.

The judge's concern was prompted by the fact that some of the defendants have made statements implicating their co-defendants. Smith is seeking the shield jurors from that information until it comes out in testimony.

The Cambodian-born Ngor, 55, was shot to death in 1996. Ngor won an Oscar for his role in the movie "The Killing Fields."

Movement and positioning of the thjree juriesnin the courtroom will be so tricky throughout the trial that the process will require choreography of sorts, using color-coding, charts, maps, badges and a video system.

The defendants, alleged members of the Oriental Lazyboys, a Chinatown street gang, are accused of killing Ngor in a robbery outside his home.

Their lawyers initially asked for three separate trials because of the recorded statements potentially implicating themselves and each other in the crime.

Rather than order the cumbersome procedure of three separate trials with many of the same witnesses, Smith came up with the idea of one trial and three juries.

Jurors will be shuttled out of the courtroom periodically when testimony is being heard that doesn't apply to their defendant. Each panel will be brought in separately to hear opening statements, and the three groups will not be allowed to talk to each other.

Each jury will be assigned one of the defendants: Tak Sun Tan, 21; Indra Lim, 20 and Jason Chan, 20, who are charged with killing Ngor outside his home near downtown on Feb. 25, 1996.

Authorities allege they were robbing Ngor and shot him when he refused to hand over a gold locket containing a picture of his wife, who died during the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Ngor himself was tortured and imprisoned by the regime, which killed an estimated 2 million people from 1975-79. He came to the United States in 1980.

Public defenders representing the three men have said that police arrested the wrong people.

There are puzzles about the case. Ngor's $6,000 Rolex watch was taken and never recovered, but the robbers left his Mercedes-Benz and $2,900 in cash he carried inide a jacket.

No gun or witnesses to the crime have turned up.

During a preliminary hearing, the prosecution's star witness recanted his testimony, saying police pressured him into stating that he saw the three young men running from the murder scene.

Written by Linda Deutsch
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