Man found not guilty
in death of 4-year-old

Chau Minh Dang was charged
with his stepdaughter's murder

A Circuit Court jury has found a former McCully man not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his 4-year-old stepdaughter more than 14 years ago.

The jury took less than a day to acquit Chau Minh Dang, 48, yesterday of the murder of Melissa Dang and failing to obtain appropriate medical care. Had he been convicted, he would have faced life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The girl died April 9, 1989, after she was taken to the hospital by her parents when she became unresponsive. She apparently had been struck in the abdomen and died of blood poisoning.

Dang denied harming the girl, and the defense argued that there were too many people who came into contact with her at her grandmother's home, where she spent much of her time, who could have inflicted the fatal blow.

Prosecutors maintained that based on their experts, the injury was inflicted within 24 hours before her death, during a five-hour period when she was solely in her stepfather's care and the mother was at work.

But the evidence at trial failed to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Dang or anyone killed the girl, said defense attorney Sam King Jr.

"It's just sad -- it's hard for everybody," King said.

Defense experts testified that the fatal injury was inflicted 24 to 48 hours before the girl died -- when she was still in the care of her Palolo grandmother and was in contact with several aunts and uncles and their partners.

The girl's mother, Hao Dang, was also charged with her daughter's murder for failing to obtain proper medical care. She pleaded no contest earlier to a lesser charge of manslaughter in exchange for her testimony.

Dang, 36, testified she did not see her then-husband do anything to the girl and that her daughter did not appear sick the night she went to work. By the next morning, the girl was unresponsive, so she and her husband drove her to the emergency room at Straub, where she was pronounced dead a half-hour later.

Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado said he was disappointed that the jury did not spend as much time deliberating on the evidence as Melissa and the case deserved.

"We felt quite confident that there was enough evidence to find him guilty of inflicting the injuries that killed her and that he had a duty as the person present to take her to seek medical care because she could have been saved," Arrisgado said.

Prosecutors could not seek a conviction on a lesser included offense of manslaughter because the 10-year statute of limitations for manslaughter had already run.

"It makes it tough for a jury to convict of murder after a baby has been dead after 14 years," Arrisgado said.

Both the prosecution and defense acknowledged the case was very difficult.

Hao Dang will be sentenced in January to five years' probation and will serve no additional jail time besides what she has already served.


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