Dao Xiong trial: Defense focuses on character witnesses

The jury in the Washington County District Court first-degree murder trial of Dao Xiong heard the final testimony Wednesday morning.

After Washington County prosecutor John Fristik rested his case, Xiong's defense attorney, F. Clayton Tyler, began calling several character witnesses to the stand.

Xiong is on trial for the shooting death of Youa Lor, 33, of St. Paul, on Sept. 9, 2010, in Lake Elmo near the Green Acres Recreation Area. Lor was trying to sell his Nissan 350z on Craigslist, and Xiong responded to the online ad and met the victim to test drive the car.

Prosecutors said Xiong brought Lor to the secluded area on 55th Street North off Demontreville Trail during the test drive, and then lured him out of the car to investigate a noise and shot him.

Xiong is charged with one count of first-degree premeditated murder and one count of second-degree murder.

Tyler told the jury that his client accidentally shot Lor when the handgun, which he brought to threaten the victim, slipped in his hand. He argued that his client should be charged with second-degree unintentional murder while committing the felony crime of stealing a car.

The 20-year-old Xiong, who waived his right to testify, spent most of the trial quietly looking down at the defense table. His family has been in the courtroom for the duration of the proceedings.

Xiong's older brother, Kou, said during his testimony that their family lived in California before moving to Minnesota in 1996. Kou said he and Dao have two sisters and a brother. The family owns a small grocery store on Jackson Street in the Capitol neighborhood of St. Paul.

Kou said he worked at the store with Dao, a sister and their parents.

"Dao is a hard-working guy," Kou told the jury, adding that he never saw Dao argue with anyone or behave violently. He said he and Dao enjoyed fishing, and playing sports and video games together.

National Guard service
Dao Xiong lived with his parents at their Oakdale home before his arrest. He told investigators during an interview aired in the courtroom on Tuesday that he attended North High School but did not graduate. He earned his GED and enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard in 2008, but never deployed overseas.

The defense had David Gaylor, a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard and Xiong's direct supervisor, testify on Wednesday.

After Xiong enlisted, Gaylor said he worked with him for about three months. Specifically, Galyor taught Xiong how to drive vehicles used in National Guard missions.

"I have had absolutely no problems at all," Gaylor said. "He was a go-getter. If I had a task, he would volunteer to do it. I would trust him with my life."

Xiong was disciplined once for being absent without leave during his National Guard duty, Gaylor said. Xiong had left to propose to his then-girlfriend Yer Vang, she later testified.

In response to Fristik's questioning, Gaylor said Xiong successfully completed weapons training while he was in the National Guard, noting it was for rifles and not handguns.

The gun used in the shooting belonged to Xiong's parents, who kept it behind the counter at their grocery store after learning from the previous owner that the business had been robbed several times.

Kou Xiong testified that he loaded the .40 caliber handgun with bullets so it would be ready to fire if a family member ever needed it in the store.

He said Dao asked him last September, in the days leading up to Lor's death, how the safety mechanism worked on the gun. Dao knew where the gun was kept in the store because he also worked there, Kou said. The family did not know Dao took the gun, Kou said.

'Really close'
Yer Vang, Dao Xiong's former girlfriend, testified she also did not know about the gun when he revealed his plan to steal Lor's car.

"He told me that he wanted to steal a car," Vang said. She also said that Xiong told her he was going to take the victim's phone and wallet along with his car.

"I tried to talk him out of it," Vang said. "I told him that if he did do this, it would ruin our relationship."

Vang was at Xiong's house when he was arrested on Sept. 10, and she was also taken into custody and questioned by police. "I was scared," she said.

While Vang didn't accept Xiong's marriage proposal while he was in the National Guard, they remained together until four months ago, she testified. She visited him in jail often after he was arrested and has continued to see him occasionally after they broke up, Vang said.

"We were really, really close. It was very difficult," she said.

Vang didn't find out Xiong stole Lor's car until after it happened. He told her he hit the victim over the head with a brick and continually said to her that he hoped Lor was OK, Vang testified, noting, "He seemed really depressed."

She said she has known Xiong for a year-and-a-half. "My family always said he was a good person. He was always making people laugh."

She said she was concerned about Xiong on Sept. 9 when she couldn't get in touch with him. She even sent text messages to Xiong's friend, Keng Koua Thao, 20, of Maplewood, to learn his whereabouts.

Then, she testified, Xiong called her at around 2 p.m. Sept. 9. "He said, 'I'm fine; I'm OK. I'm on my way home.'"

According to court documents, Xiong removed valuable parts from Lor's Nissan 350z when he brought it to his house in Oakdale, with Keng Koua Thao's help. They abandoned the vehicle in Sunfish Lake Park in Lake Elmo, and Xiong threw the keys into the woods.

Thao was arrested as an accomplice and is charged with second-degree murder. He was not with Xiong when Lor was shot.

Thao's trial has not been scheduled.

Tyler and Fristik will present their closing arguments in court Thursday morning and then the jury will begin deliberations.

Xiong faces a possible life in prison sentence for the first-degree premeditated murder charge, plus up to 40 years for the second-degree charge. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Katy Zillmer can be reached at kzillmer@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7822.

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