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Charles Chitat Ng Trial: 1998-99 - The Wilseyville Horror, Charles Ng Captured In Canada, Extradition Problems, Change Of Venue

car vise driver police

Defendant: Charles Chitat Ng
Crimes Charged: Murder, kidnapping, unlawful restraint
Chief Defense Lawyers: Allyn Jaffrey, Carl C. Holmes, William Kelley
Chief Prosecutor: Sharlene Honnaka
Judges: Robert R. Fitzgerald, John J. Ryan
Place: Santa Ana, California
Date of Trial: October 26, 1998-February 24, 1999
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death

SIGNIFICANCE: At stake was whether a truly monstrous criminal, who would almost certainly get the death penalty if convicted, could escape extradition by fleeing to Canada, which has no death penalty. This case established that he couldn't.

Acustomer in a South San Francisco hardware store on June 2, 1985, saw an Oriental-looking man stuff a $75 bench vise under his jacket and walk out. He told a clerk, who called the police and followed the man out. The shoplifter put the vise in the trunk of a car and, after glancing back, quickly walked away. The police arrived minutes later. In the car the clerk pointed out, they found a burly man who looked like an aging "hippy." The man said he didn't want any trouble and offered to pay for the vise. He said a friend of his, who was Chinese and didn't know any better, had stolen the vise.

But when the officers looked in the trunk, they found, besides the vise, a loaded pistol with a silencer. The car's license plate had been issued for a Buick owned by a Lonnie Bond. This car was a Honda. The driver showed them a driver's license issued to a Robin Stapley. The Honda's vehicle identification number was for a car owned by a Paul Cosner, a San Francisco auto dealer reported missing almost nine months before. The police took the driver to headquarters.

Further checks showed that Bond and Stapley were also missing. The driver admitted that his real name was Leonard Lake. His companion was named Charles Ng. Lake said he was thirsty and asked for a glass of water, a pen, and a piece of paper. He drank the water and on the paper wrote a note to his ex-wife, Claralyn Balasz: "I love you. Please forgive me. Please tell Mama, Fern and Patty I'm sorry." (Fern and Patty turned out to be Lake's sisters.) Then he passed out. He had taken two cyanide capsules with the water.

The police rushed Lake to a hospital, where he was put on life support. Meanwhile, they searched the car thoroughly. They found blood stains and bullet holes in the car, as well as a utility bill addressed to Claralyn Balasz in Wilseyville, California, a hamlet in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range.

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