Apr 6, 2006
Former death row inmate Omar Dent III admitted on the witness stand
Tuesday that he killed a Hawthorne liquor store owner more than 17 years
ago and became emotional in describing his remorse.
"Wow. If I had a time machine, I'd shoot myself in the head before I'd
shoot Mr. (Byung Jin) Kim," Dent, 43, told a Torrance Superior Court
Dent is on trial for the second time for the special-circumstances
killing of Kim, 40, on Aug. 19, 1988, outside California First National
Bank in Lawndale. He also is being retried for the attempted killing of
a former police officer.
The state Supreme Court overturned his murder convictions and death
sentence in 2003, finding that a judge was wrong to deny him the right
to represent himself at trial.
The purported reformed gang member, wearing a cream-colored sweater and
loose blue pants, sometimes rambled and repeated himself in his effort
to convince the jury that, although he shot and killed Kim, there were
reasons for his behavior beyond greed.
During questioning by Alternate Public Defender Kelly Buck, Dent said he
had abused alcohol and drugs every day since he was 14, never worked a
day in his life and was shot on three occasions in 1980, 1986 and 1988
while walking on the street.
The last shooting -- weeks before Kim's murder -- left Dent wearing a
colostomy bag for nine months, he said.
The morning of Kim's killing, Dent said he headed south from his Los
Angeles home in a car he stole the night before with the intent of doing
"some dirt" -- which he explained was a "ghetto" term for doing
something bad to get money.
He saw the bank and Kim going toward it with a flat, green backpack,
"I thought to myself: 'Money!' " Dent said.
He parked the car a few blocks away and walked back.
He saw Kim return to his maroon van. "And the backpack was no longer
flat, it was thick, and I immediately knew there was money in it," Dent
Dent approached Kim in the locked van and told him to get out. Then he
said he saw Kim reach down and grab a gun from the floor near the
The scene turned chaotic, he said, as he fired several rounds at Kim
through the partially closed window. He said he reached through the
glass shards, unlocked the door, pushed a still-breathing Kim to the
side and drove off.
When the van stalled on a dead-end street near Leuzinger High School in
Lawndale, Dent grabbed the backpack and ran. Intent on finding a quick
way out, he noticed August Cardino sitting in a white car.
Dent said he demanded about four times that he get out but then shot the
former police officer when the officer ignored him and reached down as
if to grab a weapon.
Cardino, who died recently, testified during Dent's first trial that he
followed Dent. He said he did reach down, but only to get the keys he
dropped. The jury hearing the retrial was read Cardino's testimony.
Dent denied anyone else was involved, even though an eyewitness saw him
get into a black El Camino similar to one his friend drove.
Dent said he threw the gun, which was later retrieved, into a bush and
hid in an apartment carport until dark, then took a bus home. His friend
and fellow gang member, Vernell Brown, picked him up at his house, and
Dent said he told Brown about the robbery and hid the money at his house
before the two went drinking at their gang's hangout.
Dent was arrested the next day with Brown after a tip from an anonymous
Deputy District Attorney Warren Kato pushed Dent on details of the crime,
including alleged accomplices, his plan to kill for money and the
sincerity of his remorse -- including measures he could have taken to
get help for Kim.
At some points, Kato's questioning grew contentious, prompting the
defense to ask for a mistrial and Judge William Hollingsworth to warn
the prosecutor to stop arguing with Dent or he would grant one.
Previously, a detective testified that a gun was found in Kim's van.
On Monday, a deputy medical examiner testified that Kim was shot three
times, with two of the bullets causing fatal injuries. A ballistics
expert testified Tuesday that the gun Dent ditched likely fired the
bullets, based on fragments and casings recovered as evidence.
Closing arguments are expected Thursday. If the jury convicts Dent of
special-circumstances murder, a penalty phase will begin next week and
jurors will be asked to decide whether to recommend a death sentence.
Man Whose Death Sentence Was
Vacated by S.C. Gets Life Term
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
South Los Angeles gang member convicted of killing a Hawthorne liquor
store owner was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of
parole yesterday, four years after his original death sentence was
overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Angeles Superior Court jury last year found Omar Dent III, 44, guilty of
first degree murder with a robbery special circumstance, but deadlocked
as to penalty, with 8 of 12 jurors favoring his execution. A third trial
was averted after prosecutors took the death penalty off the table and
Dent waived all rights of appeal.
was originally sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge
John Shook following a 1991 conviction. But the state’s highest court
unanimously threw out the conviction and sentence in 2003, saying Shook
violated the defendant’s constitutional rights by not allowing him to
Justice Janice Rogers Brown, now a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the D.C. Circuit, said the court had to reversal “under compulsion
of Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806.”
all seven justices signed Brown’s opinion for the court, Brown and
Justices Ming Chin and Marvin Baxter joined in a separate concurrence
that urged the nation’s highest court to reconsider whether judges
should be required to allow defendants in capital cases to represent
Granting a second trial to Dent, who faced overwhelming evidence against
him, “is hard to explain in any rational manner,” Chin wrote for the
three. His defense lawyers did at least as good a job for him at trial
as he could have done himself, Chin argued, yet he was entitled to a new
trial, with the right to counsel if he chose.
was represented at the retrial by Kelly Buck and Jerome Haig of the
Alternate Public Defender’s Torrance office.)
was convicted of robbing and killing Byung Kim, fleeing in his van and
shooting a retired police officer who gave chase, in August 1988.
Prosecutors said Dent ambushed the 40-year-old merchant after he
withdrew $80,000 from a Lawndale bank in order to cash checks for
defendant, who was identified as a member of the Eight-Trey Crips gang,
also was convicted in 1983 of involuntary manslaughter and was on parole—he
reportedly was recommitted twice for parole violations after serving his
original term—when he killed Kim.
earlier conviction resulted from the shooting death of a patron at a
takeout chicken eatery. Investigators said Dent apparently tried to rob
the victim, and charged him with first degree murder, but prosecutors
said they agreed to a manslaughter plea for fear their witnesses would
be too afraid to testify.
the Kim case, Dent was assigned Halvor Miller and Charles Maple as his
defense lawyers, and after several continuances the case was set for
trial on March 6, 1991. But Miller was in another murder trial, so Shook
agreed, on March 5, that Maple could try the case alone if the defendant
next day, however, Maple—who said he misunderstood what time he was
supposed to be present—was more than an hour late.
Lawyers ‘Too Busy’
judge, recounting a history of continuances and failures to appear,
relieved the two lawyers, and told Dent that it was “clear and apparent
to this court that they are just simply too busy to pay attention to
your case and to give your case the attention that it deserves.”
must be represented by attorneys that are senior trial attorneys. And
you have got to have people here to represent you. You cannot represent
yourself in this matter. So that’s what I want to do and those are the
reasons that I am doing it.”
after speaking to Dent, objected. The attorney said that Dent wanted him
to proceed, and that if he could not have Maple as his lawyer, “the
alternative he proposes to the court is that he proceed in pro. per.”
not going to let him proceed pro. per....Not in a death penalty murder
told the judge he would rather represent himself than be saddled with
two new attorneys who were unfamiliar with his case, but Shook rebuffed
him and suggested he not speak further, lest he incriminate himself.
writing for the high court, said the judge got it wrong. Whether the
defendant is facing the death penalty or not has no bearing on his
rights under Faretta, she said.
state argued on appeal that Dent did not unequivocally exercise his
right of self-representation, saying he did not object to the subsequent
appointment of new attorneys. But in view of the judge’s previous
comments, Brown said, the defendant may have felt that any objection was
was convicted again in April of last year.