The Long Wall
Part Four


 
All of Tony Szeto's acts in connection with the Golden Dragon massacre occurred in San Mateo County--at Bert's house and the gun-dumping site in Burlingame--but he was charged with being an accessory to a felony which had occurred in San Francisco. Levine contended that the jurisdiction should have been San Francisco. Tony was at that time represented by Charles Dresow, a smart young lawyer who handled the preliminary hearing in front of Judge Axelrod in Municipal Court. Dresow raised the jurisdictional issue based on a statute which specifies that the crime of accessory must be tried in the county where the accessorial act occurred--and won.
This required that Tony be re-booked in San Mateo County and that another preliminary hearing be done there. Levine reversed roles with his assistant, Ed Rudloff, a mustachioed, Robert Redford type who was also a nationally ranked swimmer, being then captain of the swimming team at the Olympic Club. Thus, Rudloff became lead attorney in the Tony Szeto case, and Levine served as his assistant, the chief prosecutor's hands already being full with the San Francisco cases.
Although Tony was tried only as an accessory, it was necessary, nevertheless, to prove the murders. This meant flying Wendy Suto and Janice Imanishi down from Seattle and calling the other victims to testify again, as they all had in the trials of Stuart and Melvin.
The defense attorney for the trial occupying the first two weeks of October 1978 was Ed Suman from "down the Peninsula," as San Franciscans say when they mean anyplace southward between The City and San Jose. He was a former D.A. in San Mateo County.
The prosecution team of Rudloff, Levine, and Gang Task Force personnel started trying the case on the Monday after the Melvin Yu verdict had been rendered the previous Tuesday. They thought the jury panel extraordinary and would have taken the first twelve in the box. San Mateo County is quite wealthy and very conservative, a factor reflected in its juries, who represent the kinds of people Levine sensed as ideal for a Golden Dragon trial (as opposed to San Francisco's far more liberal juries).
Among those called to testify was Chester Yu, who had accompanied Tony to the gun-dumping site. It was also Chester who had led John McKenna and other policemen to the remote area of Bayside Park on the night of his arrest the previous April and had pointed out the section of the Bay in which Tony had stomped the weapon pieces into the mud. On that occasion, a recovery team of divers searched for two days, eventually bringing up everything Tony had buried underwater. The parts were so well preserved that they were fitted together again and rendered capable of firing.
Chester's testimony was helpful, but there is a rule that a person cannot be convicted on the evidence of an accomplice alone. There must be corroboration, some evidence other than that given by the accomplice. In the Tony Szeto case, Rudloff had the least amount of corroboration that had ever been found by any court in California. Both he and Levine realized the case could get thrown out of court if they had nothing more than Chester's accomplice testimony to go on.
At that juncture, Levine kept asking himself why Tony had dumped the guns in that particular spot along the Bay. It was isolated and hard to find. Only someone familiar with the area would have known about it. How had Tony come to find such a place? Levine took a drive out there and surveyed the scene. A strip of water in one direction separated the land-fill peninsula from the north/south runway of San Francisco International Airport. In another direction lay Coyote Point, a San Mateo County park and marina. The only other landmark of note was a large office building, a few hundred feet away, housing Kee Joon's Chinese Restaurant on top. There were very few other structures in sight.
On a hunch, Levine checked at Kee Joon's. His hunch paid off. Sure enough, Tony Szeto had worked there for three weeks in May of 1977. That was corroboration!
The manager of Kee Joon's brought the payroll records into court, which proved Tony's familiarity with the unusual spot. That placed him among the few people who would realize that on a holiday weekend like Labor Day, he could dump the guns into the Bay in broad daylight without fear of being seen.
Incorporated with other evidence, this made a good argument as corroboration. Tony, although he denied it, was proved to be a member of the gang and was thought to serve mostly as a spy in Chinatown. He had attended Felix Huey's funeral at the Cathay Mortuary and stood next to Tom Yu, as revealed in the clandestine police photographs taken from across the street. This evidenced his motive. There was identification of him by Bert Rodriguez, who was present when Tony brought won-ton soup to the house the morning after the massacre. And he had been an employee at Kee Joon's, near which he had dumped the guns.
The jury convicted him, however, simply because it believed Chester. But when the case went up on appeal, the first appellate court reversed it due to "insufficient corroboration." Undaunted, the prosecution took it to the California Supreme Court, which rendered a decision now cited as the leading California case on the law of accomplice corroboration, despite the fact that it included the least amount of corroboration ever found sufficient to corroborate an accomplice.
After the jury's pronouncement of guilty, there was a recess. While everyone stood in the hall outside the courtroom, Tony's sister suddenly fainted and fell to the floor. Dan Foley helped her to a bench, where she revived. A priest who had attended the trial attempted to give her comfort, but she continued in a state of semi-hysteria. Such family histrionics had occurred previously in the Golden Dragon trials and hearings only with Peter Ng's mother at his fitness hearing. When Egg was ordered to stand trial as an adult, she went into a screaming fit and collapsed. Both incidents, quite understandable even in American society, were highly reminiscent of public trial by spectacle in China, whereby the accused confesses his guilt to the crowd, and this initiates great display of emotion on the part of his relatives, often to the point of chest beating and tearing of hair.
Pleased with the verdict of guilty, Levine was much dissatisfied with the sentence handed out by Judge Lyle Edson, who gave Tony two years in state prison when he could have given him three. Still, the prosecution's record to that point was outstanding: three trials, three convictions.
Yet to come were the trials of Egg Ng and Tom Yu.
 

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2000 Brockman Morris