I didn't find a thread here on this case, if there is one please delete this thread. It must have been horrible for the man who found her dismembered body in the barrel.


By Michelle Durand

The Daly City murder defendant who avoided trial for seven years from the time he allegedly shot a 22-year-old woman four times in the head, sliced up the body and hid it inside a storage barrel pleaded no contest to manslaughter just hours before a jury was to hear opening statements.

In return for pleading no contest in the death of Xiu “Erica” Jiang, Bobby Tran, 31, will receive 30 years in prison with credit for 15 percent of time already served. Tran must serve 85 percent of the sentence and faces deportation back to Indonesia or Vietnam when released.

“I’m very conflicted about cases like this. What he did is very serious but there is no guarantee and we could watch him walk out the back door after the trial,” prosecutor Al Giannini said about agreeing to the last-minute plea bargain.

One stumbling block, Giannini said, was an uncooperative witness who is currently facing federal murder charges and others who simply could not be found. The wide window between Jiang’s death and the discovery also made the evidence tricky, he said.

According to prosecutors, Tran arranged a sham marriage for Jiang with an American citizen and murdered the San Francisco masseuse over money shortly before the couple were to meet with immigration officials. Jiang went missing for three years and the discovery of her body began another four-year countdown to trial.

Tran, 31, entered the plea just before noon Tuesday and jurors were informed less than two hours later they were no longer needed. Wearing a blue shirt and speaking softly, Tran answered “yes, ma’am” to every charge listed by Judge Barbara Mallach.

Tran received 11 years for manslaughter, 10 years for using a .22-caliber handgun in the commission of the crime and various smaller terms for assault, weapons possession, perjury and having a prior state prison conviction. Tran also received three years for an earlier admitted escape attempt from the county jail.

Defense attorney Kevin Nowack left court quickly after the plea was entered.

The plea bargain sidestepped a trial that was expected to last two months and which had already spent weeks in court with motions and jury selection. The estimated length of the trial made many potential jurors balk at service and more than 40 motions on the evidence kept the court busy as late as Monday.

Trial was almost averted late Monday when prosecutors refused to accept Tran’s 22-year sentence offer and countered with 30 instead. On Tuesday morning, jurors expecting to hear opening statements were ordered to return in the afternoon.

If trial had commenced, jurors would be asked to decide if Tran murdered Jiang sometime around Jan. 10, 1999. Prosecutors can’t be specific about the date because of the state of Jiang’s body when she was ultimately discovered in a Daly City storage facility.

A grisly discovery

In June 2002, Shurgard Storage Inc. auctioned off a locker on which monthly payments had stopped. The buyer thought he was getting a unit full of car parts and a lone storage drum. He notified Daly City police after a bad odor came from the barrel and discovered Jiang.

Her body had been chopped into nine pieces, sprinkled with cat litter, bagged and placed inside. An autopsy later showed Jiang died from four gunshot wounds to the head. Police were left to figure out who she was and how exactly she got there.

A missing person

Jiang, police determined, was a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States and worked at a Tenderloin massage parlor with Tran’s girlfriend. Authorities aren’t positive about her arrival date but she applied for asylum in July 1994. She lived in a Turk Street apartment and had a circle of friends with whom she constantly spoke on a cell phone.

On Jan. 14, 1999, Jiang’s friends reported her missing after failing to reach her on the phone and learning she missed an important appointment with immigration officials. They talked their way into her apartment and noticed both the carpet and bedding missing. Police thought it looked suspicious but the case remained unsolved until the Daly City barrel was uncovered.

The defendant

Backtracking from the rented storage locker, Daly City police learned Tran rented it using a false driver’s license. Tran, under an alias, was in custody in Santa Clara County on commercial burglary charges — the reason why payments stopped — and had a string of prior crimes.

Tran came to this country as a refugee through Vietnam and jumped bail from an INS hold in 1983, Giannini said.

Police learned Tran was a marriage broker of sorts, arranging marriages between illegal immigrants and United States citizens. He already had one under his belt when Jiang gave a $10,000 down payment in 1997 to marry a man he picked.

Tran told Jiang she must also place $40,000 in a joint account as proof of the marriage’s validity. She reportedly believed Tran meant to take the money himself and wasn’t going to pay it.

She told the last person who spoke with her by phone, “Mr. Tran is coming over and wants to talk,” and was never seen again.

Giannini believes Tran shot her in the apartment with a silencer, rolled the body in the carpet and removed her from the scene.

Jurors would have never heard the theory, however, because Mallach refused to let evidence about the silencer into court.

In December 2003, a judge ordered Tran to stand trial after a two-day preliminary hearing. In February 2004, however, Tran appeared unwilling to leave his fate in others’ hands.

A jailbreak

Aided by a cell mate also charged with first-degree murder, Tran tried cutting through the window bars of his cell with hacksaw blades. The noise woke another inmate who inadvertently tipped off jail officials. How the men got the blades remains unclear.

In late April, Tran pleaded no contest to the escape attempt in hopes his defense attorney could keep the incident from the jury. Giannini said he planned to introduce the evidence as proof Tran had consciousness of guilt.

More at link.
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