the hate crime killing of thien minh ly

The O.C. Weekly has a lengthy story on the brutal 1996 murder of Thien Minh Ly, and the troubled, hate-filled man who committed the vicious act: When Gunner Jay Lindberg Killed Thien Minh Ly, Was It Actually a Hate Crime?. Twelve years later, a key question about the murder is now the subject of debate. In coming weeks, the California Supreme Court will announce if Ly was really the victim of a hate crime. For the killer, Gunner Jay Lindberg—the first person Orange County sent to San Quentin State Prison's death row under California's hate-crime statute—the decision is a matter of life and death.
A quick-tempered box stocker at a Tustin Kmart with a penchant for picking fights with Asians, African-Americans and Latinos—anyone, really—Lindberg didn't graduate from high school and possessed few social skills but was artistically gifted. He'd converted both a white 2.5-pound Gourmet's Choice fruit container and a cardboard San Francisco 49ers checkers box into storage for his marijuana stash after redecorating them with swirling, hand-drawn psychedelic images of anger, death and Hitler. If pot soothed other people's minds, it only fueled Lindberg's fantasies of becoming, he wrote, "the king of all evil and distruction [sic]."

Lindberg, who also took methamphetamines, never lived up to his narcissistic imagination. During an eight-year crime spree beginning at age 12, he proved himself to be little more than a thug who preyed on the defenseless. His victims included a cop's 11-year-old son, whom he chased and shot in the throat with a BB gun; a day laborer, whom he attacked with a tree limb for the money in his pocket; a skateboarder, whom he repeatedly kicked in the stomach as he stole the board; the peers he angrily chased, firing a shotgun, over a perceived slight; an on-duty prison guard, whom he brutally ambushed; and an elderly woman, whom he pummeled during a home-invasion robbery for drug money.

But he committed his most heinous act on Ly. At 8 p.m. on Jan. 28, 1996, Lindberg took Domenic Michael Christopher, a Kmart co-worker, to his apartment after they finished a shift that consisted largely of watching the Super Bowl on television in the store's break room. According to his own writings, Lindberg hoped to mold the impressionable 17-year-old, who liked karate and hadn't been in trouble before, into his protégé. They smoked pot, talked about "robbery and shit like that" and left on foot—Lindberg carrying a butcher knife he'd stolen from his grandmother's kitchen, according to police files. They stopped for dinner at Jack in the Box, and then walked the streets searching for a victim. At one point, they encountered a group of teenagers standing in a front yard, attempted to start a fight, failed and moved on.

Minutes later, they found and trapped the unsuspecting Ly, whose last seven minutes of life were the stuff of horror flicks. Lindberg called him a "Jap," demanded his car keys, cursed him, punched him, stomped on his head, kicked his face, slashed his throat and stabbed him 22 times—in part, to celebrate a victory earlier that evening by what Lindberg hailed as "America's team," the Dallas Cowboys.

Among Ly's final words were "What the fuck?"
According to the article, Lindberg's days are now filled with "exercising, writing pen pals, creating art, playing chess, daydreaming about Nordic lore and writing satanic poems that mock Ly's death." I'm not an attorney, but I have a hard time seeing how this wasn't hate crime. The story makes note of the abundance of racist and pro-Nazi art and paraphernalia in Lindberg's possession, as well as the letter he wrote to his cousin detailing how he "killed a Jap"—the letter that ultimately led authorities to him. It goes on and on. This guy is crazy psycho racist.

But during supreme court oral arguments last month, Lindberg's defense argued that two special circumstances the jury found to be true—that the murder was committed during the commission of an attempted robbery and that Ly's race was a key factor in the crime—were, in fact, false, and the death penalty punishment must be overturned. Among his arguments, he told the justices that the evidence presented at trial "did not establish that Lindberg possessed a racial bias," did not prove that he hated Asians or "murdered Ly because of his race."

The article tries to delve into Lindberg's past and upbringing, trying to make sense of what could drive a young person to hold such hateful views and commit such a heinous act of violence. Again, I don't know the minutiae of the law, but it's pretty clear to me that this guy had a lot of hate in his heart, and wanted to inflict as much pain as possible. Thien Minh Ly was a tragic target of Lindberg's mindless, senseless hate.

In the end, none of this can be of much comfort to Ly's family. He was a smart, likeable guy with a bright future and career ahead of him. I remember first learning about this case in the late 1990s when I saw the film Letters to Thien. It was a sober reminder that hate crimes and racially-motivated violence can and still occur, in an instant and without reason.

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