Prosecution argues Dao Xiong planned murder

The hood of a Nissan 350z with painted images of Youa Lor's four children and their favorite cartoon characters stood just a few feet from members of the jury Aug. 4 in the Washington County District Court murder trial of the man accused of killing him to steal the vehicle.

The trial of 20-year-old Dao Xiong of Oakdale is underway almost a year after he allegedly shot and killed Lor on Sept. 9, 2010, in a rural area of Lake Elmo near the Green Acres Recreation center.

Xiong is charged with one count of first-degree premeditated murder and one count of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Lor.

Lor, who was 33, lived in St. Paul with his wife Katie and their four children.

He was trying to sell his Nissan 350z on Craigslist, and Xiong responded to the online ad and met the victim to test drive the car.

Xiong is accused of shooting Lor after they stopped on 55th Street North in the Tri Lakes neighborhood of Lake Elmo. Xiong, who was driving, claimed he heard the vehicle make a noise and stopped so he and Lor could check it out, Washington County Prosecutor John Fristik said in his opening statements to the jury.

Prosecutor: one car, two divergent plans
Katie Lor had helped her husband post the Craigslist ad to sell the car shortly after they moved to Minnesota from Pennsylvania in August of 2010. Youa Lor planned to use the money to start his own auto repair business in order to support his family, Fristik said.

When Xiong saw the ad on Craigslist, he had to have the vehicle, Fristik told the jury. "He knew, 'This car is sweet. I want the parts off this car.' The trouble is Dao Xiong never had any intent of buying that car, his intent was to rob and kill Youa Lor to get that car."

The county attorney said Xiong sent his friend, Keng Koua Thao, a text message at least two days before Lor's death that said, "You want to kill a guy with me?" Fristik added that Xiong also sent another message to Thao that said he was going to do it.

Thao, 20, of Maplewood, was arrested as an accomplice in Lor's murder since he allegedly helped Xiong remove parts from the victim's vehicle. Thao was not with Xiong when Lor was shot.

Defense: killing not intended
Xiong's attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, said in court that his client told police when he was arrested that Thao wasn't involved because he didn't know he brought a gun on the test drive.

"Dao Xiong is not a brazen executioner or psychopathic killer. His intent was to steal the car, not shoot the owner of the car. Unfortunately, his intent went terribly wrong," Tyler said.

He argued that his client should be charged with second-degree unintentional murder while committing the felony crime of stealing a car.

Tyler said Friday that there are no plans to have Xiong testify during the trial. Neither Xiong nor Thao had a criminal record prior to the case, and both were members of the Minnesota National Guard at the time.

'He never came back'
Youa Lor's wife was the first to testify Aug. 4.

After her husband's death, Katie Lor moved to California with her children to live with her family.

She said she first met Youa Lor when she was 8 or 9, and he was visiting her brother-in-law while they lived in Connecticut. Youa was about nine years older than her, and they met again in 2001 at a Hmong New Year celebration in North Carolina. After staying in touch by phone for a year, Youa and Katie married in 2002 and rented a home in Pennsylvania, she said.

Fristik stopped Lor's testimony to show a picture of her late husband to the courtroom. He was wearing his favorite hat in the picture, Katie said. He was wearing the same hat when he was killed.

Seeing the photo, Xiong became emotional and cried. He kept his head down through most of the trial and testimony.

Katie Lor said she and her husband moved to St. Paul from Pennsylvania in August 2010 after he lost his job as a welder. Youa's friend, Kao Vang, owned an auto repair shop in White Bear Lake and offered Lor a job.

"He liked to fix (cars) up," Katie Lor said. "Everything he knew about cars he read and learned himself. He wanted to start a business so he could work with cars."

Katie Lor said her husband worked until about 8 p.m. each day. The morning of Sept. 9, 2010, was the last time she saw him.

That evening, police arrived at her home while she was waiting for her kids to be dropped off. She identified Youa Lor as her husband and said she didn't know he had an appointment to show the car to a prospective buyer that afternoon. Police told her that her husband had been shot during the showing and didn't survive, Katie said.

Youa Lor's friends and other family members saw him that day when he met Xiong at the home of Kao Vang. Lor stored his Nissan in Vang's garage.

During his testimony, Tchino Vang said he saw Youa Lor on Sept. 9 at his brother Kao's house before leaving on the test drive with Xiong.

Witnesses said Xiong identified himself to Youa Lor's relatives and friends at the house as Michael, and said he worked as a general contractor for the government.

The day of the test drive, Xiong told Youa Lor that his sister had the money to purchase the car at her home, according to Tchino, who recalled reminding Lor to wait for the money before finalizing the sale.

Before Xiong and Lor set out on the test drive, Tchino remembered Lor saying "he'd be back in five minutes. And (then) he never came back."

Xiong's plan
The remaining witnesses who testified Friday included investigators and individuals who found Lor in the ditch on 55th Street North after he had been shot.

From purchasing an "untraceable" Tracfone at the Oakdale Target store, visiting with Lor in advance to look over the car, and taking a gun his parents kept at their St. Paul grocery store for protection, Fristik argued Xiong's actions showed Lor's murder was part of a pre-meditated plan.

"Dao knew (the gun) was what he would use to carry out his plan," Fristik asserted. "He didn't come with a wallet full of cash; he came packing a loaded .40 caliber handgun."

When they stopped on 55th Street North due to the noise Xiong claimed he heard, Xiong took the keys and told Lor he had to go to relieve himself. Fristik told the jury Xiong was trying to step farther away from the car to be able to take the gun out of his jacket pocket.

"At about 2 p.m. he drew (the) gun, pointed it at the victim and shot him in the stomach," Fristik told the jury. "(The) victim collapsed, and Xiong drove away."

In his opening statements to the jury, Tyler reiterated that the defense's contention that Lor's murder was an accident. Xiong only planned to steal the victim's car and use the gun as a means to threaten Lor if he could not get him away from the vehicle, Tyler contended.

Lor and Xiong had been standing outside of the vehicle for at least 45 minutes after they stopped on the side of 55th Street North, according to the testimony of passing motorists.

When Xiong pulled out the gun to get the victim away from the vehicle, it slipped in his hand and accidentally went off, Tyler said.

Xiong drove away after seeing a vehicle driving toward the area. Xiong thought the people in the vehicle would help Lor, Tyler told the jury.

Barely breathing
After the shooting, some passersby came to Lor's aide, including two off-duty Minneapolis police officers, Dennis Kreft and Lance Dupaul. Each was driving separately -- one on his way to work and the other test-driving a vehicle just back from the shop.

Dupaul told the jury that Lor was not responding to any communication. Initially he didn't notice any signs of trauma, just shallow breathing from the victim. Both Kreft and Dupaul said they found very little blood coming from Lor's wound, and thought at first he had been stabbed.

Dupaul called 911 while Kreft tried to revive the victim with chest compressions. Emergency responders took Lor to Regions Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the meantime, Fristik told the jury Xiong drove to his home in Oakdale where Keng Koua Thao waited for him to help dismantle the victim's car.

On the way there, Fristik said Xiong threw the victim's cell phone and his Tracfone out the car window into a field.

Before abandoning the Nissan in Sunfish Lake Park in Lake Elmo, Xiong and Thao stripped parts from it, including the customized hood with the children's portraits, gas cap, windshield wipers and tire rims. Xiong tossed the car keys into the woods, Fristik said.

Evidence for arrest
Investigators arrested Xiong on Sept. 10 after learning about his Tracfone calls to Lor, and family members of the victim identified him as the man who came to look at the car.

Drew Evans, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, was one of the investigators who tracked Xiong's cell phone records in the days leading up to Lor's death.

He told the jury that detectives were able to find out where Xiong's phone was purchased and obtain a receipt and surveillance video from the Target store, Evans said.

BCA forensic scientist Glenn Langenburg said fingerprints of Xiong, Keng Koua Thao as well as one from the victim were found on the Nissan. Testimony in the trial is expected to wrap up by the end of this week.

Thao is charged with second-degree murder and his trial has not been scheduled. He and Xiong both remain in custody at Washington County Jail.

Katy Zillmer can be reached at kzillmer@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.
 

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