Thu, Sep 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Boston massacre finally in court, 15 years after the fact


When three gunmen burst into a Chinatown social club in early 1991 and yelled "Robbery!" the men inside the club did what they were told, knelt down on the floor and put their hands behind their heads.

But one by one, five men were executed, shot once, twice or three times in the head, with guns that were held so close that they left gunpowder residue on the men's clothing.

Nearly 15 years after one of the bloodiest crimes in Boston's history, two men went on trial on Tuesday.

Siny Van Tran, also known as "Toothless Wah," and Nam The Tham, also known as "Johnny Cheung," are charged with fatally shooting five people and wounding a sixth man in the basement of the social club in Boston's Chinatown section before dawn on Jan. 12, 1991.

In opening statements on Tuesday, prosecutor John Powers III told jurors that a man who was shot and survived later identified Tran, Tham and a third man as the shooters. The third man, identified as Hung Tien Pham, has never been found.

Pak Wing Lee, who was shot in the head but crawled up the stairs and pushed open a door of the club to cry for help, is expected to be the prosecution's star witness.

"He had a front row seat to the massacre," Powers said.

Powers offered little detail on the alleged motive for the shootings, noting only that one of the shooters said it was a robbery. Powers also said Lee knew the men, but he did not elaborate.

Police had said the killings appeared to be part of a dispute between gangs vying for control of Chinatown's gambling rackets.

Tran's lawyer, Robert George, told the jury that Tran was in the social club -- one of many in Chinatown in the 1990s where Asian immigrants went to drink, socialize and gamble -- at the time but did not participate in the shooting.

Tham's attorney, John Palmer, told jurors to carefully examine the credibility of a second witness, Yuman Young, who ran the social club. Young originally told police he was not there the night of the shooting, but eight years later identified Tran and Tham in testimony before a grand jury.

"He never told the police that he was essentially running the club as a gambling casino -- illegally," Palmer said.

It took more than a decade for authorities to track down Tran and Tham and bring them back to the US.

The two men are Vietnamese nationals who were raised in China. They were arrested in China on unrelated charges in 1999, then extradited to the US in 2001 after lengthy negotiations with China, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

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