T he Los Angeles County courtroom where three men accused of murdering Haing Ngor
are to be tried will be a crowded one.
As well as friends and family of Haing Ngor and the defendants, and a large media
presence, 36 jurists on three different juries will be there to decide the fate of
the three accused.
In an extremely rare move, each defendant will have their own jury.
"The decision [to use three juries] has already been made," according to
Public Defender Ivan Klein.
His client, Jason Chan, and two other defendants Indra Lim and Tak Sun Tan each filed
separate statements detailing what they claim occurred on the day of the murder,
entitling them each to their own juries in the eyes of Judge DS Smith, Klein said.
"Some evidence is not admissible for all of the defendants. Rather than severing
the trial, they can sever the jury," he added.
The judge will be in a position to order one or two of the juries out of the courtroom
any time there is testimony that could unfairly prejudice a jury's judgment against
one or another of the three suspects.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum, who will prosecute all three cases, said it will
be a major challenge to simultaneously prove three men guilty before three different
juries. "It will be complicated. I will have to remember what I say to which
jury. The case will be a logistical nightmare. I will have to make separate opening
and closing arguments to each jury and keep it all clear in my head."
While two-jury cases are not unheard of in California, Hum said that there have only
been one or two other trials with three juries in the state's history.
Richard Hirsch, a Los Angeles-based Defense Attorney familiar with the judge assigned
to the Haing Ngor case, said that the judge's decision to simultaneously preside
over three cases is a recipe for a media circus in a case that has already drawn
a great amount of publicity.
He also said that procedural complications entailed by a three-jury trial will greatly
increase the likelihood of a mistrial, and create logistical difficulties.
"It is just the crazy sort of thing [Judge] Smith would do," he said. "I
don't know where they are going to put them all. Twelve people in each jury, plus
alternates; they're not going to fit in the courtroom."