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 Royal Pains

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Little Mousie
Little Mousie

Number of posts : 9
Registration date : 2010-09-01

PostSubject: Royal Pains   Wed Sep 01, 2010 12:54 pm

Charged with murder more than 20 years ago in the shooting death of a neighbor, Tho Minh Quach’s bail was revoked after he failed to appear in court for a hearing as his 1988 trial approached.

Now, after living openly in Boston for two decades, Quach never will stand trial on the murder charge after a Harris County judge’s ruling that the law missed its chance to prosecute because of a clerical error and a lack of effort to find him over the years.

It is the kind of case that makes prosecutors shake their heads, and is the foundation of the policies and procedures being developed by the recently recast cold case unit of the Harris County district attorney’s office.

Russell Turbeville, who heads the division, said Quach’s case, with all of its missteps , is the example prosecutors will look to when going after cold cases.

“The law is that law enforcement has to make reasonable, diligent efforts to apprehend even a fugitive suspect,” Turbeville said. “Once the defendant has been charged, they have a right to a speedy trial and if there’s a significant delay, the court looks at four factors and does a balancing test.”

Quach’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said his client was defending himself when he shot Loan Van Tran, 36, in the head about 4 a.m. on Nov. 29, 1987, in an apartment in the 7800 block of Tierwester. Investigators at the time said the pair had been drinking when they began arguing. Quach, then 35, surrendered shortly after the shooting.

He was charged with murder and released on $10,000 bail. After receiving several threats, he moved to Boston to live with relatives. He continued to make court appearances in Houston, until his case was put on a docket and no one notified him, DeGuerin said. Eventually his bail was revoked and he was listed as a fugitive.

Even visited Vietnam
Through the years, Quach lived openly in Boston, giving his real name and birth date to authorities several times for traffic tickets. He also asked for permission from the federal government to visit his native Vietnam, and passed through Customs during his international travels.

Investigators initially were befuddled in their attempts to locate Quach because his date of birth, Jan. 1, 1952, was incorrectly entered into police computers as “11/19/52.”

Ten years later, the error was fixed and the computer matched two men with the description — one in Los Angeles, and Quach in Boston.

Houston officials asked both cities to investigate. But police on both coasts put the case on the back burner, and police here did not follow up.

“Everybody dropped the ball on that case,” Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said recently.

The open warrant for murder finally caught up with Quach in 2008, and he was brought back to stand trial.

“That case was snakebit at every level,” said Assistant District Attorney Bill Exley, who led the prosecution.

DeGuerin argued that because Quach had not tried to conceal his identity, police had missed their window to prosecute him.

State District Judge Denise Collins agreed, calling the case a fiasco, a disappointment and a mistake that she hopes is not repeated.

It still haunts prosecutors.
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