Sia Vang, 32, wife of Steve Lo wipes away tears while she talks to members of the media outside the courtroom after the verdicts were announced. Bee staff photo by Randy Pench
By Andy Furillo
A Sacramento jury convicted former Sacramento sheriff's deputy Chu Vue today of murder charges for masterminding the Oct. 15, 2008, shooting death of state correctional officer Steve Lo.
The same jury also acquitted Vue's co-defendant and fellow Hmong clan member, Lang Vue, of the murder count. The panel convicted Lang Vue, however, or harboring the two accused gunmen in the case - Chu Vue's younger brothers Gary Vue and Chong Vue.
Chu Vue (left), 45, also was convicted of harboring the brothers, who were fugitives who were wanted for murder in Minnesota at the time Lo was shot and killed. The brothers have since been convicted of the Minnesota killing.
"I'm very satisfied with the verdict," said Sia Vang, the wife of the slain correctional officer. "A man that kills another man should be put behind bars for the rest of his life. He should not have any freedom at all."
Chu Vue is facing a probable life term with no chance of parole at his scheduled Oct. 29 sentencing in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White. The jury also found true the special circumstance allegation that the killers were lying in wait when Lo was gunned down.
The judge ordered Lang Vue, 27, released on his own recognizance, after the co-defendant's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Matthew Scoble, said that his client has already served the maximum time for his conviction on what was technically an accessory to a felony count.
Jury foreman Chris Clark said evidence against the former sheriff's deputy was overwhelming.
"It was the amount of evidence," he said, "reaching a height that could not be denied. It wasn't one piece or two pieces. It was the entirety of the evidence that got us there."
Most compelling, Clark said, was Vue's inability on the witness stand to explain his telephone calls to his brothers in the hours leading up to Lo's killing.
Vue spent six days on the witness stand testifying on his own behalf during the seven-week trial.
"It did not help," Clark said.
One unidentified but distraught relative of Vue tried to say something to him as the courtroom emptied, but deputies blocked her from reaching him.
Vue's lawyer, Donald Masuda, as well as Scoble and Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall all cited the pending gag order in the case and did not answer questions afterward.
The Sacramento District Attorney's Office released a statement saying, "Justice was served today in the conviction of Chu Vue for the murder of Correctional Officer Steve Lo."
The statement said the office would not say anything further due to the upcoming trial in February of Gary Vue, 29, and Chong Vue, 31.
The eight-man, four-woman panel returned its verdict after three and a half days of deliberation.
Police and prosecutors say Chu Vue orchestrated the attack on Lo in the garage of his south area home after the fired former deputy found out that Lo was having an affair with his wife, Chia.
Lo, 39, was shot and killed in the garage of his Tambor Way home in south Sacramento just before 5 a.m. He was in uniform and getting ready to drive to work at the California Medical Facility.
He worked there as a correctional officer. Chia Vue was employed at the Vacaville prison as a medical technical assistant.
Police and prosecutors say their affair had hit critical mass by June 2008, when Lo took Chia Vue to his daughter's high school graduation. By the end of the month, Chu Vue had begun illegally accessing sheriff's computer files to try and get information on Lo, whose name had been entered in the system as a result of his two arrests for domestic violence-related incidents with his first wife. Criminal charges were filed and dismissed in both cases against Lo.
Evidence at the trial showed that Vue had obtained Lo's home address by Aug. 8, 2008. On Aug. 17, he had six calls from one of his cell phones ping off the transmission tower closest to Lo's house. He continued his research on Lo, and between Aug. 23 and Aug. 28, his cell phone pinged off the same tower at 8450 Stockton Boulevard a total of 16 times, phone records showed.
But he denied at trial that he was conducting a surveillance on the correctional officer, saying that his gym is in the neighborhood and probably accounted for his presence. Records subpoenaed by police and prosecutors from the gym during the trial, however, did not match the timing of the phone calls.
On Aug. 29, Vue's phone bounced off the tower 11 more times, and on Sept. 4, co-defendant Lang Vue's phone was transmitting in Lo's neighborhood. Lang Vue (left), who lived about a mile and a half away from Lo's house, testified that he regularly shopped at a supermarket close to the slain officer's residence.
Vue testified at trial that his wife told him on Sept. 6 that "we're through," just a couple days before he discovered photographs Lo took of him and Chia Vue together in various sexual poses. Three days after the discovery of the sex photographs, Vue had a sister deposit $25,000 that he said he'd been "hoarding" into a safe deposit box.
A surveillance camera on Steve Lo's street caught Vue driving down the block on Sept. 15. Vue admitted to the drive-by, saying he was checking out the house to see if his wife was there.
By Sept. 19, Vue's brothers had made their first trip to the Sacramento area, after having lived for about seven months in a broken-down mobile home on a 20-acre piece of land in a desolate region of Tehama County. Chu Vue purchased the land the previous year through a hidden buyer, his cousin. He said he planned to use the property for hunting and fishing trips. He testified at trial that he only used it once for that purpose.
The same day the brothers showed up in Sacramento, Chu Vue called them on an untraceable, prepaid cellular phone. "I just wanted to see how they were doing," he testified.
Lang Vue testified that he brought the brothers down from Corning, that they had contacted him after an estimated year and a half of being on the run for the Minnesota murder charges.
In Sacramento, he rented them motel rooms and cars. He said they paid him for the rentals; Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall suggested it was Chu Vue who secretly paid for their upkeep and transportation.
Chu Vue testified that he did not know the brothers were in Sacramento, but the phone records showed him talking to them while both of their cellular devices were pinging off the same towers near the Ramada Inn on Bannon Street. Kindall suggested they actually had a face-to-face meeting at that time.
Cars that bore strong resemblances to the ones Lang Vue had been renting for the brothers began showing up on the surveillance videos on Lo's street about the time Lang Vue had been obtaining the vehicles.
On Sept. 22, one of the rental cars was caught on the tape at the same minute that a prepaid cell phone linked to the brothers pinged off the tower in Lo's neighborhood. Lang Vue bore a resemblance to the driver of the car, but he denied under oath that it was him.
He did, however, admit to driving the brothers to the Tehama County property in the same car he rented within hours of the time stamps on the video and the pinging of the brothers' phone in the neighborhood.
On Sept. 24, Chu Vue's car once again was caught on the video tape driving past Lo's house. He said he was supposed to meet his wife around then at the gym and that he swung by Tambor Way when she didn't' meet him there.
Chu Vue withdrew $3,000 from one of his bank accounts on Oct. 6, and the next day the brothers - through Lang Vue - bought a black Chevy Blazer for $2,000. Prosecutors say the car was depicted in a surveillance video 12 minutes before Steve Lo's wife called 911 to say her husband had been shot. The brothers then used the same car to leave Sacramento two days after the killing, the prosecution alleged.
Kindall, the prosecutor, argued that Vue was obsessed with his wife and that her affair with Lo drove him "over the edge." Vue, Kindall argued, had "the oldest motive known to man" to commit murder. He said that Vue's brothers "owed him big time" for helping them stay free while they were wanted on murder charges.
Chu Vue's lawyer, Donald Masuda, said his client had "moved on" from his relationship with Chia Vue. The lawyer said Vue's wife had been having affairs with so many men that it didn't make sense for Vue to single out just one.
Masuda said the killing was the work of the younger "dirt bag" brothers alone.
Photo caption: Former Sacramento sheriff's deputy Chu Vue listens as the verdict is read in Sacramento Superior court on Wednesday. A jury convicted Vue of of murder for masterminding the Oct. 15, 2008, shooting death of state correctional officer Steve Lo. Photo by Randy Pench
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141.