It was a typical afternoon at Hop Sing Tong, the Chinatown social club frequented by elderly Chinese immigrants.
By 2:45 p.m., some were playing mah-jongg, while others stood and watched.
It was then that a bloody confrontation unfolded, ending in two fatal stabbings that stunned Los Angeles' Chinatown community.
On Tuesday, based on the testimony of three witnesses, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor ruled there was sufficient evidence to try Vinh Dao, 37, in the Jan. 26 deaths of Joe Hoe “Tony” Young and Kim Kong Yun.
Young, 64, had been pursued by law enforcement officials for decades as a suspected leader of the Wah Ching, a notorious Chinese gang.
In recent years, Young had apparently led the quiet life of an immigrant retiree, spending many of his days at the Hop Sing Tong mah-jongg tables
Tuesday's hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom did little to illuminate a possible motive for the stabbings, which do not appear to be related to Young's past. Detectives have previously said that Dao was angry because Hop Sing Tong, which traditionally helps immigrants with financial difficulties, did not give him enough money to pay for an impounded vehicle.
That January afternoon, Dao entered the club and asked Yun, the 64-year-old manager, if he could stay the night there, one of the witnesses, Rui Zhou Yu, testified.
Yun refused, since the club does not accept overnight guests.
Dao began speaking loudly on his cellphone and Yun accused him of stealing a friend's vehicle, Yu told the court. Dao responded by yelling profanities.He then pulled a 6-inch knife from his waistband and stabbed Yun in the neck, Yu testified.
Yu, who sweeps the floors, brews coffee and does other chores for the club, said he ran outside and called police. He said he did not witness Young's stabbing but later saw Dao flee out the back door.
Another witness, Jimmy Wong, said he saw Dao arguing with Yun and Young, who was the club's president. Dao stabbed Yun twice in the neck and Young three times in the chest, Wong testified.
Chung Kin Lam, who typically goes to Hop Sing Tong to drink coffee and read newspapers, said he saw Dao walk into the club and wander around before arguing with Yun.
Yun asked Dao to leave and attempted to shove him out the door, Lam testified. At that point, Lam said, Dao drew the knife.
Young left the mah-jongg table and rushed over to “stop anything from happening,” Lam said.
After witnessing Dao stab Yun in the neck, Lam said he decided to flee.
“I was very scared. I saw Kim Kong Yun with blood all over his body,” Lam testified.
As he was leaving, he said he saw Young running to the second floor, with Dao in pursuit.
After the police arrived, Lam returned and caught a glimpse of Young's body, face down against the stairs.
Dao was arrested the next evening in Rosemead and is being held without bail. He was charged with two counts of murder with special circumstance allegations of committing multiple murders. If convicted, he faces a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. He is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 17.
In 2002, Dao was sentenced to five years in prison for a fatal stabbing outside a Koreatown nightclub.
By Cindy Chang * Contact Reporter / October 3, 2017 9:25 PM