Crime

Fresno murder conviction thrown out by appeal court

Nath Ouch, 20, was expecting to give birth to a baby girl when she was shot and killed in a dispute between rival gangs on Feb. 1, 2006.
Nath Ouch, 20, was expecting to give birth to a baby girl when she was shot and killed in a dispute between rival gangs on Feb. 1, 2006. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

A Fresno appellate court has thrown out the conviction of a Fresno gang member who was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the 2006 killing of a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

The case involves Jose Angel Perez’s role in the killing of Nath Ouch, who was 20 years old and eight months pregnant when she was gunned down outside an apartment complex near Tulare and Peach avenues in southeast Fresno during the early hours of Feb. 1, 2006.

Prosecutors say Ouch was an innocent victim caught in a gang war between the Tiny Rascal Gang and the Asian Boyz.

Perez, now 31, was one of two Asian Boyz gang members who fired guns multiple times, but his bullets did not kill Ouch or her unborn child known as Baby Ouch, court records say.

In 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole because jurors voted that he had committed multiple murders.

On Thursday, the 5th District Court of Appeal reversed Perez’s conviction, saying trial Judge Wayne Ellison misstated the law to the Fresno County Superior Court jury that convicted him.

Perez was convicted under the legal theory of aiding and abetting.

The ruling says Ellison told the jury that “an aider and abettor need not act willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation in order to be guilty of first-degree premeditated murder so long as the actual killer behaved with such intentions.”

Appellate Justices Gene Gomes, Donald Franson Jr. and Rosendo Peña said Ellison’s jury instruction “was antithetical to the California Supreme Court’s holding in People v. Chiu,” which in general says an aider and abetter must also act willfully, deliberately and with premeditation to be found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder.

In tossing Perez’s conviction, the appellate justices noted that the state Attorney’s General Office, which represents the prosecution in appeals, conceded this fact.

The case involves Jose Angel Perez’s role in the killing of Nath Ouch, who was 20 years old and eight months pregnant when she was gunned down outside an apartment complex near Tulare and Peach avenues in southeast Fresno during the early hours of Feb. 1, 2006.

Perez’s trial attorney, Peter Jones of Fresno, agreed with the ruling.

“This case, like so many others, highlighted the tragedy of gangs, guns, drugs and peer pressure,” Jones said. “But it also evidenced the fact that not all of those involved in gangs have the same mindset.”

Jones recalled that during the trial, jurors asked Ellison for guidance. “I think the jury’s question (to the judge) made it clear that that they did not believe Mr. Perez premeditated the killing of anyone.”

In reversing the decision, the appellate justices gave the prosecution two options: retry Perez or allow him to plead guilty to second-degree murder and sentence him.

The ruling is another chapter in a tragic case that drove Ouch’s husband, Chanbory Nop, to commit suicide shortly after her death and led to the convictions of several Asian Boyz gang members.

Perez was the last to be tried because he had fled to Mexico after Ouch was killed and lived there five years before his arrest by the FBI.

Ouch was visiting relatives at an apartment complex that was a Tiny Rascal Gang hangout when she was shot and killed.

In dispute at Perez’s trial was whether he intended to kill Ouch.

I didn’t go out there trying to kill nobody.

Convicted killer Jose Angel Perez

Jones told the jury that Perez was too drunk and high on Ecstasy to know what he was doing. His intent was to spray the Tiny Rascal Gang hangout with bullets – not kill anyone, he said.

In addition, Ouch and her unborn baby were killed by a single bullet from an AK-47 assault rifle, the appellate ruling says. Perez was armed with a handgun.

Sokmorn Chea, the Asian Boyz member who fired 30 rounds from an AK-47, was convicted in 2007 of killing Ouch. He is serving life in prison without parole.

The prosecution, however, told jurors that Perez was just as guilty as Chea, saying both men hid in the dark at Easterby Elementary School and waited for their enemies to leave the apartment complex before firing their weapons.

In their ruling, the appellate justices noted the evidence in the case.

“Trial evidence suggested that Perez and Chea had fired their weapons haphazardly,” the ruling says. “Crime scene technicians found bullet damage and strike marks on multiple buildings, pavement, parked cars, and a street sign, as well as along a chain-link fence behind which the perpetrators were believed to have stood during the shooting.”

A total of 38 shell casings were collected at the crime scene, eight of which came from the handgun used by Perez, the ruling says. In addition, a prosecution witness testified that Perez claimed to have fired his rounds into the air.

The ruling says jurors also heard Perez’s recorded interview with police. “I didn’t go out there trying to kill nobody,” Perez says. “I’m sorry, but it wasn’t (my) intention, it wasn’t (my) intention to kill nobody that day. Nothing was supposed to happen.”

When asked about Chea’s actions, Perez said, “I don’t know why he fired like that. I can’t tell you why because he gots (sic) his own mind.”

Perez declined to testify in the trial, but some of his Asian Boyz associates, who also are doing long prison terms for their roles in Ouch’s death, testified against him.

Before he was sentenced, Perez told Ouch’s family and friends in Ellison’s courtroom that he was sorry. “I’m here as a man today to accept responsibility for my actions,” he said.

In announcing the sentence, Ellison said Perez has shown remorse for killing Ouch. The judge also said it was unfortunate that Perez’s uncle recruited him into the gang. But “justice demands that these lives be respected,” Ellison said.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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