AP NEWS

Chinatown slaying linked to racing deaths

June 6, 2018 GMT

A 14-year-old boy who remains in a juvenile lockup accused of killing a woman at her Chinatown home during a robbery in early April, was apparently connected to a pair of racing deaths three weeks later.

The Houston teen, whose identity was not released because he is a minor, was arrested Sunday by police detectives on a charge of capital murder. He is accused of shooting a woman in the back of the head after she hit him with pepper spray during a late night robbery attempt outside her home, according to investigators.

The link between the two seemingly unrelated violent crimes emerged Tuesday, after a Harris County magistrate ruled the young teen would remain in custody pending trial. Members of a ring of 14- and 15-year-old boys, cruising around Southwest Houston late at night earlier this year, were involved in both crimes only a few weeks apart, investigators confirmed.

Two of the teens involved in the ring died on April 25, following an early morning street race that ended with both cars going out of control and plowing into structures. A third teen, who was the driver of one of the cars and survived, was charged for causing the fatal wreck, and a fourth is now facing capital murder for the earlier robbery in Chinatown.

“I don’t think they were ever out of trouble,” said Ivory Brown, referring to her nephew Harvier Hunter, 14, one of the two teens killed in the late-night crash in April.

Houston defense attorney Gary Polland represents the teen charged in the robbery, and described him as well-mannered with a relatively clean criminal record.

“He was polite,” said Polland, who was appointed to represent the teen and sat next to him during Tuesday’s detention hearing. “He has virtually no record in the juvenile system. One prior misdemeanor.”

Polland said he is investigating the police account of the robbery, including the allegation that his client was the triggerman.

Witness steps forward

There were few public developments in the murder case in the two months since Tuyen Nguyen was killed, but a major break was apparently made over the past week. A fifth teen, one of four who were in the car during the April 5 fatal shooting, came forward to homicide investigators after telling his mother what he knew, Houston police confirmed.

That witness led to an interview in which Polland’s client allegedly confessed to the shooting, police said.

On April 5, the alleged shooter represented by Polland, was riding in a car with three other minors after 11 p.m. when he saw Nguyen outside her home in the 9500 block of Langdon, investigators said. The boy said he asked the driver to stop so he could use the bathroom.

But instead, he got out of the car and attempted to rob Nguyen with a weapon, he told police. He confessed to the shooting, according to Houston police spokesman Kese Smith.

Three weeks after Nguyen’s murder, two of the teens who were in the car the night of the robbery were involved in the fatal racing crash. Investigators say Harvier Hunter, 14, who was allegedly in the car during the shooting, died the the crash. Also killed was 15-year-old Savyion Farley, who was not along for the ride the night Nguyen was fatally shot.

The surviving teenager, a 14-year-old who was also allegedly in the car during the shooting, was arrested for racing and failure to stop and render aid. He remains in the Juvenile Detention Center.

Family members of Hunter, one of the teens who was killed, said he told them about the shooting shortly before the fatal wreck.

“I raised him to be respectable, but he was hard-headed,” said Brown, an aunt who said she raised Hunter as her son. “When that happened to that lady, they told me about it. They didn’t tell me right away, but they told me about it a couple weeks later.”

Asserting innocence

She said Hunter, along with another member of the ring, told her they did not know there was going to be an armed robbery.

“They heard shots and I told them they should have left him,” she said.

Brown believes the teen who is behind bars on the felony charges of racing told police about the shooting to get a better deal. She said Houston police detectives recently interviewed her and told her Harvier was the shooter, an accusation she disputes.

“They didn’t have any leads until (the teen in jail for the racing deaths) got arrested for Harvier’s death,” Brown said. “Just because he’s dead, they’re going to blame it on him? I said, ‘No. Harvier didn’t murder nobody.’”

Brown said she implored Hunter to call the police. She said she now wishes she had called because he wouldn’t have been killed in the racing crash.

“I’d rather for him to be in jail, than dead,” she said. “I told him, why do you want to deal with those people? They’re going to wind you up in jail or Hell.”

In the street racing crash, a patrol officer saw two vehicles driving next to each other at high rates of speed eastbound on Fuqua around 1:50 a.m. on April 25 in southwest Houston. The drivers, one in a Ford Explorer and the other in a Ford Expedition, both lost control of their SUVs when one hit the other near Bathurst, police said.

The Explorer struck a tree and flipped over, and the SUV driver, Hunter, and passenger, Farley, died at the scene, police said shortly after the accident.

Tried as adult

The Expedition hit a speed limit sign and the the driver stopped. He looked in the other car, and then got back in the car to drive away but was arrested, police said. The teen accused in that case faces prison time if convicted. He could be certified to stand trial as an adult.

The teen who is behind bars on capital murder charges will not face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted because of his age. He may be certified to stand trial as an adult and, if convicted, will be parole eligible after 40 years.

Prosecutors on Tuesday declined to comment on the case. The teen will appear again later this month on another detention hearing in state District Judge Micheal Schneider’s court, Polland said.

brian.rogers@chron.com