The man accused of killing his 12-year-old estranged stepdaughter in Gaithersburg last year was nowhere near the slaying when it happened, his defense attorneys said in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Tuesday.
Montgomery County Public Defender Brian D. Shefferman described the alleged murder of Gaithersburg Middle School honor student Jessica Nguyen in her Gaithersburg home May 31, 2011, as an “unbelievable tragedy,” but strongly denied any accusation that his client, Nguyen’s estranged stepfather, 43-year-old David Rich Hang, had anything to do with the crime.
Hang, who was arrested Oct. 18, is charged with first-degree murder in Nguyen’s killing.
“His so-called motive to kill a child is based on assumptions, speculation and guesswork,” Shefferman told the jury in the opening arguments of Hang’s trial. “... This wasn’t a man who was angry, this wasn’t a man in a rage; certainly this wasn’t a man who had anything to do with the murder of a 12-year-old girl. David Hang had nothing to do with the murder of Jessica Nguyen.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Chaikin gave the jury a different perspective of Hang, describing what he called the growing frustration on Hang’s part as his marriage to Jessica’s mother, Khen Kim Vu — itself based on a pre-arranged scheme to secure Vu’s citizenship in the United States — rapidly disintegrated into a prolonged and costly legal battle between Hang and Nguyen’s family.
“The way that people respond to stress often determines the path their lives will take, and on May 31, 2011, the defendant responded to that stress by brutally murdering Jessica Nguyen,” Chaikin said.
On the evening of the killing, Nguyen’s sister found her dead from at least 40 stab wounds to her torso, neck and head in the basement of her family’s Raven Avenue home, in Gaithersburg, Montgomery County police said.
Nguyen’s family contacted Hang prior to 2006 and arranged to pay him $25,000, as well as free housing and food, to marry Vu until she was able to secure a green card for herself and her children, Chaikin said.
Hang lived with the family for about six months before Vu’s brother got him a job as a Ride-On bus driver, at which point Hang moved out in 2007, Chaikin told the jury.
The conflict began, Chaikin said, when Hang met and married another woman and began asking the family to speed up his and Vu’s divorce so that he could enroll his new wife, who suffers from significant health problems, under his health insurance policy, Chaikin said.
Nguyen’s family contested the divorce because Vu had only obtained her green card, not full citizenship, Chaikin said.
“Both sides are unraveling this sham marriage-business agreement and it’s causing serious tensions on both sides,” Chaikin told the jury. “The defendant was desperate for a divorce. ... He was furious.”
Shefferman denied that the situation led Hang to kill Nguyen. Shefferman also denied Chaikin’s claims that the sheath to a small sword found near Nguyen’s body was linked to his client by DNA.
“What the [forensic] lab is saying, you’ll learn, is that Mr. Hang’s DNA is a potential contributor to one of three DNA profiles they found on that sheath,” Shefferman said. “No weapon was ever found.”
Chaikin and Shefferman also offered differing views on the importance of cell phone records, bloody boot prints found at the scene, and an injury to Hang’s hand.
Hang’s trial is scheduled to last all week.