The Supreme Court of California on Thursday upheld the death penalty for Charles Ng, a Hong Kong man convicted of killing 11 people during a two-year murder spree in Calaveras County, California, in the mid-80’s.
Ng, now 61, served as an accomplice to Leonard Lake, who died after swallowing a cyanide capsule after his arrest. The pair carried out their crimes in a “torture dungeon” in Lake’s cabin, located near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
The pair’s victims included at least two families: Lonnie Bond, his girlfriend Brenda O’Connor and their infant son, Lonnie Jr., who were Lake’s neighbors, and Harvey Dubs, his wife Deborah and their infant son Sean. Relatives who came to the cabin looking for their missing loved ones were also killed.
The sadistic duo’s scheme came to an end after Ng — who also has a history of shoplifting — was caught stealing a vise from a hardware store in San Francisco on June 2, 1985. Lake came to the store to pay for the vise, but when police asked for his ID, he presented them with the ID of Scott Stapely, a man that had been reported missing weeks prior.
Officers looked into his car and discovered an illegal silencer. He was then taken to a police station, where he swallowed multiple hidden cyanide pills.
Lake’s death effectively left Ng to face the consequences of their crimes alone. While he managed to flee to Canada after the San Francisco incident, he was eventually arrested again for shoplifting and shooting the store’s security guard.
Ng was charged with assault, shoplifting and possession of a concealed firearm in Canada, where he was imprisoned before being extradited back to California in 1991. However, his trial did not begin until October 1998, as Ng repeatedly fired his lawyers for being “incompetent.”
Ng was eventually allowed to represent himself, but his right to self-representation was revoked in 1998. In 1999, he was found guilty of killing six men, three women and two male babies between 1984 and 1985 and sentenced to death by lethal injection.
California, however, has not carried out executions since 2006, while Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium in 2019 that stands for as long as he is governor. For these reasons, Ng has only remained on death row and may even get out of it if he succeeds in other federal appeals.
The California Supreme Court’s 181-page opinion on Thursday concluded that Ng received a fair trial. It affirmed his conviction and death penalty.
During his trial, Ng argued that he was under Lake’s influence as a father figure, acting only on the latter’s orders because he wanted to make him proud. He also pointed out that he was beaten by his own father as a child, which supposedly shaped his choices later in life.
However, the jury was not convinced. Videos of Ng torturing the victims himself, as well as accounts from Lake journals, demonstrated that he was just as culpable.
“You can cry and stuff, like the rest of them, but it won’t do any good. We are pretty…cold-hearted, so to speak,” Ng told Brenda O’Connor in a taped footage while cutting off her clothing with a knife.
A former cellmate also recalled Ng bragging about his kills in a 1991 interview. The unnamed prisoner said Ng had professed about hating certain groups and that he killed one gay man by burning him alive.
“He can kill and not even think about it. He could kill you right now,” the prisoner told Inside Edition. “He has absolutely no conscience. … He could kill and go watch a movie or have breakfast 10 minutes later.”