In late September, I received letter in the mail from the county courthouse that I had jury duty starting October 1st. Normal griping ensued, but off I went. Sitting in a room of 350 potential jurors, I thought that this was no normal trial. Answered a 150 question handout and 2 lawyer interviews later, on the morning of November 1st the remaining 57 potential jurors were sitting in the court room waiting to find out if we were on the jury or on the way back to work. I soon found out that I was not on my way back to work. Twelve random people and 2 alternates were escorted to the jury box and we were all sworn in. Only then were we told what the case was about. It was a capital murder case in which the DA was pursuing the death penalty. We were instructed not to talk about the case at all at home or with our fellow jurors until deliberation of the case. We broke for lunch and when we returned, opening statements began. Four weeks I sat in the courtroom listening to evidence about the alleged crime and a question kept coming back into my head; ďWhat would I have done?Ē
I wonít bore you with the hours of evidence gathering details that the prosecution presented, but I wanted to tell you what happened on October 17, 2008 so we all can learn from it. I will put this story together based on the evidence and the testimony of the witnesses. There would be 2 phases to this trial. The guilt/innocent phase and the sentencing phase. If the defendant was innocent, then no sentencing phase.
There are three major parties to this story. All strangers to each other, but all came together on one storming fall night in Houston, TX.
Party Number 1: Alverino Diaz and Paty Diaz met in high school and were high school sweethearts. They married at 17 right out of high school. Al worked full time at a restaurant and did 2 side jobs to make ends meet. Paty was a stay at home wife that took care of their 4 kids and worked a little on the side for some extra cash. Their kids were at that time 11 yr old girl, 9 yr old boy, 4 and 2 yr old girls. Al had been working real hard and promised his wife, Paty that he would take her out to dinner. They had not had date night in quite a while. Patyís sister came over to babysit and off they went to dinner, dancing and alone time. In all, Paty and Al were very happy living out their lives. Al was a CHL holder and always had his Baretta Nano 9mm with him.
Party Number 2: Kim and Tran Bui are immigrants from Vietnam. Each came over on their own and met at their church. They married and had 3 sons. In 2008, 1 was in college at UT, the other 2 were in high school. Tran worked as a fix it man for the string of laundry mats and Kim was a nutritionist the worked with under privileged children. Tran worked 12 hour days and Kim would go to elementary schools and talk to young kids about healthy eating of fruits and vegetables. Kim would often buy fruit and hand it out to the kids when she was finished with her presentation. She did not do anything fancy, just grapes, apples, and oranges. In all, Kim and Tran were very happy fulfilling the American dream.
Party Number 3: Tarence Andres (the defendant) was 20 yrs old, no father, living on his own. Drug use and petty crimes fulfilled his day. Tarence wanted to be a big man in the gang, so he asked one of his cohorts to buy a Bryco 380 from a pawn shop ďjust to impressĒ. One night, the defendant was smoking marijuana dipped in PCP, snorting cocaine and drinking beer. The defendant was restless and wanted to go joy riding. One problem, he did not have a car. However, that did not deter him. He placed 7 rounds in the clip and 1 in the pipe to max his Bryco 380 to 7+1. Put on his oversized green hoodie, a pair of gloves and left his house.
These parties were going to meet and when they did, a tragedy was created.
The incident: Tarence wanted to go joy riding, but he needed a car. In his mind, carjacking was the way to get a car, so he walked to the apartment complex next to his townhouse around 10:00 pm. There he waited by the apartment entrance for the next car to come by. The apartment complex was gated and gave the residents a sense of security in an ďOKĒ part of town. To get into the apartment complex, a car drive up, stopped, and enter their 4-5 digit code in the number key pad to open the gate, Terence's plan was to come out of the shadows and take the car at gun point when the car stopped to enter their entry code to the gate. Unfortunately for Tarence, he waited 40 minutes and no cars came by. He went to his secondary plan. He walked next to the apartment complex to the Valero gas station and convenient store. Since he could not go joy riding, he would rob the store. Upon entering, there were 4-5 people buying stuff and he did not have the patience to wait until he and the clerk were alone. After pacing back and forth for 2 minutes (video time stamp), he left looking very agitated. The next stop was the Kroger grocery store just a half mile down the road from where the defendant lived. He arrived around 11:00 pm and stood in the shadows at the corner of the store so he could see the 3 main entrances. He would not have to wait long.
Paty and Al were getting ready to leave for their date night, when Paty realized that they needed milk for tomorrowís breakfast. Paty wanted to stop at the Kroger grocery store on the way to dinner, but Al resisted. He wanted to get the milk after dinner since it was a warm, balmy night and the milk would get warm sitting in the car when they were at dinner. Paty agreed and they would get the milk after dinner. Since Al and Paty were going to dinner and have some drinks, he placed his holstered Berretta between the driver seat and the console to go into the restaurant. Al never re holstered his gun. They arrived at the Kroger parking lot at 11:10.
Tran and Kim Bui had dinner with their 2 sons on a typical Wednesday evening. After dinner, the 2 boys went to their rooms and started their homework. Kim and Tran cleaned up, and then settled in for the night. Kim remembered that she needed some fruits and vegetables for the next day. She was to give a presentation to kindergartners about healthy eating. Tran, worried about his wife going to the store at night by herself, would drive her. The told the boys they would be right back and headed out the door. They arrived at the Kroger store at 11:17.
Since it was a warm night, but raining, Al pulled into the Kroger parking lot and drove up to the front of the store, where Paty exited the vehicle and went inside to start the shopping. No sense in both of them getting wet from the rain. Al pulled away from the front door and went to park the car to soon join his wife inside the store. The parking lot was pretty empty since it was late on a Wednesday night. Al pulled to the first couple of parking spots and parked his car. Tarence was watching. When Al stopped his car, Terance approached the car and opened the passenger side door, showed the gun and demanded the car. But, there was a problem. The car was a stick shift and Tarence could not drive a stick. After a few words, Al decided to exit the car and hand it over to Terance. Unfortunately, Tarence saw the gun between the console and the driver seat. Tarence exited the driver side as Al was gathering to get out of the driverís side. Tarence walked around the back of the car and while Al was still getting out of the car and shot Al in the back of the head. The bullet entered Alís skull on the left side and exited just above the right temple. The bullet remained under the skin right at his temple. Al fell out of the car onto his back. His wallet and holstered gun fell next to him.
A box boy in the Kroger store heard the gun shot and looked up just in time to see Al fall from his seatd position and Tarence put the gun in his hoodie and walk towards the side of the store. The witness ran to the back of the store to get his manager. The manager, thinking it was a joke, followed the witness to the front of the store where they saw Alís laying on the ground in a pool of blood. The manager went inside and called 911. The witness remembered that Al had dropped off his ďgirlfriendĒ and started searching the store for her. He found her at the checkout line ready to pay. Approaching Paty, he asked her if she came in a green Saturn with her ďboyfriendĒ. When she answered yes, he told her what he had just seen.
Witness number 2 heard what he thought was a gun shot. He was across the parking lot drinking a cup of coffee at Starbucks. He stood up, but did not know where the shot came from. Then he heard 3 more shots in rapid succession. Right after the third shot, a speeding car came from the side of the Kroger towards where he was standing. The car bounced over a raised island and came to rest in a well lit area at the far end of the parking lot. It stayed there for about 2 minutes and then sped off down the street leaving a hub cap in the parking lot where it hit the curb.
Kim and Tran Bui were entering the side of the Krogerís at 11:17 with Tran doing the driving. It was a warm night, so Tran had is driver side window rolled down to get some fresh air. As soon as Tran entered the side parking lot, Kim yelled out ďHe has a gun!Ē Tran panicked. He slammed on the brakes to stop his car never seeing the man with the gun. When he looked up, Tarence was standing next to him with the gun pointed at his face. The gun was no more than 5 inches from the bridge of his nose. Tran described the gun in great detail during the trial. Kim was sitting in the passenger seat looking at Tarence. Tarence fired his gun into Tranís face, but the bullet did not hit Tran. Tran stepped on the gas to get away from Tarence. Tran saw his wife jump when the first shot was fired and he heard the passenger side window shatter. All Tran could think about was getting away from the gunman. As the car sped away, Terance shot at the car 2 more times. One round entering the back driver side widow and entering the driver side front seat and the third shot entered the driver side door. Tran never let off the gas and sped towards a well lit area of the parking lot as far from the gun man as he could get. After driving over a grassy island in the parking lot, Tran stopped that car to check on his wife. She was looking at him with a hole in her upper lip and blood coming out of her mouth. Teranceís first shot had hit Kim in the upper lip on her left side, traveled through her mouth cavity and exited the back of her neck on the right side. The bullet severed 2 major arteries in the back of her neck and blood was filling her mouth and throat. Not knowing what to do, Tran hit the gas to take Kim to the Hospital that was 3 miles down the road.
Paty, just being told that her husband may have been shot dropped everything and ran out of the store to find her husband laying on his back, blood coming from the bullet wound, his ears, nose and throat. She immediately dropped to her knees and started to cry and shake Al. There was no response except for gurgling sounds deep in Alís throat. Shortly after Paty had reached her husband, the first county Sherriff arrived on scene (dash cam). He quickly secured the crime scene and ushered the EMTís to Al. The EMTís worked fast and calmly, but the needed to get Al to the hospital. Life flight was called, but due to the recent rain storms, the helicopter could not fly. Al was transported to the hospital by an ambulance, but Paty could not go. She was a witness and the police needed to talk to her. Paty arrived at the hospital around 1:30 in the morning, where the doctors said that they could not operate on Al. They were running tests and hopefully when the swelling subsided, they could retrieve the bullet. Paty had called her sister to tell her what had happened, but told her not to bring the kids. She did not want them to see their dad in the condition he was in. Patyís sister called the rest of the family and they all went to the hospital. Al was pronounced brain dead at 6:05 that morning. Paty agreed to donate Alís organs, but not until the kids could say goodbye to their father. Al was pronounced dead 2 days later.
Tran frantically driving down the road while blood poured out of Kimís mouth entered the hospitalís ER parking area where he picked up his unresponsive wife and carried her into the ER, yelling at the doctors. He did not remember what he said. Every time Kimís head came forward; blood would gush from her mouth. The doctors took Kim to the back area and Tran called his brother and sister-in-law. They came immediately. Tranís front of his shirt was covered with Kimís blood, but he stated to his brother, that his back hurt. Tranís brother looked at his where back where there was a small fist size patch of blood. Tranís brother lifted the back of his shirt to reveal a bullet hole in Tranís back. With all that was happening, Tran did not realize he had been shot as well. When the doctorís came out to talk to Tran, Tranís brother told the doctor about the bullet hole. The doctors removed the bullet fragment from Tranís back. Within minutes of Tranís having the bullet removed, the doctors came out and told Tran that his wife of 21 years has passed away due to blood loss and suffocation (blood in her lungs that drained down her wind pipe).
Aftermath: At first, the police did not reliaze that these 2 shootings were related. When witness number 2 described the speeding car in the parking lot, the poilce did not know that was the car of kim and Tran. Not until the police were called to the hospital where Kim was being treated that the police put two and two together. With some really great police work, the defendant was caught in New Orleans. He confessed to the crime, but only after he saw the evidence against him. He also confessed in a way that it made him to look like the victim. He stated Al was trying to attackk him and the Tran tried to run him over with his car. All debunked by the physical evidence. We, the jury, found him guilty and gave him the death sentence. 2 families destroyed by the random act. In my opinion, the only thing that would have saved Al and Kim was better situational awareness and avoidance.