By Josué Monroy
SACRAMENTO – As Anh Thai was rolled into Sacramento County Superior Court last week, he did not look like a man capable of standing on his own, much less one who could inflict harm on another person.
And yet, he entered in a wheelchair and was brought before Judge Scott Tedmon to determine whether he was fit to stand trial for the 2015 murder of his wife. His defense argued that the 91-year-old is mentally unfit, pending the results of a psychological evaluation.
The hearing was streamed live via Zoom, and the defendant was in custody with Assistant Public Defender Rodney Simpson standing at his side. A Vietnamese translator was virtually present as well, to help Thai understand the proceedings and answer the judge’s questions for him.
The parties were in court to confirm the previously-set October trial date in which Thai would be tried for the murder. However, his defense and the district attorney’s office had reached a tentative deal that hinged on his medical diagnosis.
Thai would plead guilty to the lesser crime of second-degree murder and also admit to a weapons enhancement. Thai had stabbed his wife to death with a knife in their Elk Grove home and was originally charged with first-degree murder.
The guilty plea is a conditional one, meaning that Thai would plead no contest to the modified charges for now, while the results from his psychological evaluation were made available. At that time, if in fact he is found to be unfit due to his mental state, he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham expects him to be found unfit for trial.
“I’ll be submitting to the finding of the psychologist regarding the fact that he is legally insane, and I do expect that he will be sent to Napa State Hospital,” said Dunham.
Once Thai pleaded to the charges at the hearing, the plan was for him to be referred to the Sacramento County Probation Department, and at a future date when there would normally be a sentencing hearing, the court would find him to be legally insane and send the defendant to Napa State Hospital instead of prison.
His current plea incurs a sentence of a maximum 15 years to life, plus one year for the weapons enhancement.
As Judge Tedmon asked Thai the standard procedural questions to verify that he is aware of the implications of his no contest plea, he became confused when asked if he was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication that would lead him to not understand the proceedings.
Counsel Simpson then asked the judge to rephrase the question so that the defendant could distinguish what the judge meant when referring to drugs in this case—Thai is on various medications while in custody.
“He’s 91 years old,” stated Simpson. “As you can see, he’s pretty frail. He is on a number of medications here at the jail. I think he’s confused because you’re asking if he’s on medication, and he’s on a ton.”
Thai sat slumped in the wheelchair throughout the proceedings as he answered through the translator. When asked if he plead not guilty or no contest to the charges, he said, “I admit my guilt, I did not know what was going on at that time.”
The defendant’s conditional plea is non-binding in the event that the court does not find him unfit to stand trial after his evaluation. This means that he can withdraw the plea of no contest to second-degree murder and go to trial on a first-degree murder charge. That is unlikely, however.
The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4, at which time the court is expected to review the psychological report and accept Thai’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
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