Gang member convicted of murder

Robert Koch

A 21-year-old Inver Grove Heights man was convicted Saturday of second-degree murder in connection with the Sept. 24 drive-by shooting of University student Zoo Chuyangheu.
Chuyangheu, 19, was playing basketball with friends at a park near Edgerton Elementary School in Maplewood when Tze Thao and three members of the White Tigers gang drove by and shot him once in the back.
The gang members reportedly mistook Chuyangheu for a member of the rival Oriental Loc gang.
After a weeklong trial, the jury acquitted Thao of first-degree murder but found him guilty on two counts of second-degree murder.
“You have a young man who was attending the University of Minnesota and was not affiliated with a gang,” said prosecuting attorney Chris Wilton. “None of the people who were with him were gang members.”
Chuyangheu’s four friends later testified that the driver fired the shots. Three passengers in the car said Thao was driving and fired the shots.
Police never found the .22 caliber handgun used in the killing.
Investigator Richard Straka of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force testified at the trial.
Straka said Thao associated with known gang members, was identified as a gang member by reliable sources and appeared in photographs with other gang members.
But defense attorney Gary Bryant-Wolf described Thao as a good young man, who found himself in a car full of gang members. He said backseat passenger Nhoua Yang likely fired the shots.
Bryant-Wolf said Yang fashioned his story based on other gang member’s statements, which he read and heard while being questioned by police.
“He just made up a story that dovetailed with what police told him,” Bryant-Wolf said.
Chuyangheu was a University sophomore studying chemical engineering at the time of his death.
Peter Hudleston, Institute of Technology associate dean, sent Chuyangheu’s family a sympathy letter after the shooting.
“It was a tragic and untimely death,” said Hudleston. “Innocent people get caught up in gang-related activities.”
The White Tigers is a Hmong gang that has been active in the Twin Cities for a decade.
Thao is scheduled to be sentenced July 19. He could spend up to 18 years in prison.
Bryant-Wolf said he will bring the case before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected]