Crime

Fresno gunman guilty of murder in restaurant shooting of unarmed patron

Lee Saysanasy, 45, was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder for killing an unarmed man inside a Fresno restaurant in November 2011. It marked his second conviction for a shooting death in the restaurant.
Lee Saysanasy, 45, was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder for killing an unarmed man inside a Fresno restaurant in November 2011. It marked his second conviction for a shooting death in the restaurant. Fresno Police Department

A Fresno man is guilty of second-degree murder for shooting an unarmed man inside a local restaurant – a killing that was captured by the eatery’s surveillance camera, a jury ruled Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court.

The jury deliberated six hours over two days before convicting Lee Saysanasy, 45, of using a gun to kill 35-year-old Alvin Khamchan in November 2011 inside the MeKhong Restaurant. It marked the second time Saysanasy shot a man to death inside the restaurant. The first occurred in 1992.

Saysanasy now faces the possibility of life behind bars.

Prosecutor Brian Hutchins said the defendant gunned down Alvin Khamchan in front of dozens of people during a loud party in the early hours of Nov. 13, 2011.

Police say the MeKhong Restaurant on Belmont Avenue east of Blackstone Avenue has been the site of several other shootings, including the killing of Albert Thao, 27, in September. The restaurant closed afterward. Since then, a new restaurant has opened in the location.

During Saysanasy’s trial, prosecutor Brian Hutchins said the defendant gunned down Khamchan in front of dozens of people during a loud party in the early hours of Nov. 13, 2011. “It’s a straightforward case,” Hutchins told the jury. “It’s right there on the video.”

But defense attorney Beth Ann Lee said Saysanasy killed Khamchan in self-defense. She argued that the video didn’t show what happened before the victim was shot, when the victim and his friends had threatened to kill Saysanasy. “He believed his life was in imminent danger,” Lee told the jury.

The video from a restaurant surveillance camera shows a drunken Khamchan moving his fingers toward Saysanasy’s eyes and Saysanasy swatting them away. Lee said Saysanasy had to swat the victim’s fingers away twice.

Khamchan then shows Saysanasy the palms of his hands right before he is shot three times at close range, including after he had fallen on the dance floor, Hutchins told the jury.

The prosecutor said the victim was smiling and drunk when he put his fingers toward Saysanasy’s eyes – imitating the old “Three Stooges” eye-poke gag.

After getting his fingers swatted away, Hutchins said, Khamchan made his hand gesture as if to say, “What’s your problem?”

But Lee said the hand gesture meant “Come on, let’s go,” like an invitation to fight. Khamchan was putting a hex on Saysanasy when he put his fingers to the defendant’s eyes, she told the jury. After putting the hex on Saysanasy, Lee said, the victim cursed Saysanasy and told him: “You’re dead.”

Court records say Lee Saysanasy killed another man in June 1992 in a fight over a woman. That altercation happened inside the MeKhong Restaurant at Kings Canyon Road and Cedar Avenue.

Court records say Saysanasy killed another man in June 1992. At that time, Fresno police said, a fight over a woman prompted Saysanasy, then 22 years old, to fatally shoot Sombane Sayasen, 24, inside the MeKhong Restaurant at Kings Canyon Road and Cedar Avenue. Police said Sayasen was unarmed when he was killed. Initially charged with murder, Saysanasy later pleaded no contest to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, court records say.

Saysanasy’s sentencing on the murder charge is pending in Judge Jonathan Conklin’s courtroom. Until then, he will remain in the Fresno County Jail, where he has been since the killing of Khamchan.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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