A judge on Wednesday ruled three Southern California inmates can stand trial on charges of making a brazen escape from jail before leading authorities on a weeklong manhunt.
Wearing orange jail jumpsuits and shackles that clinked throughout their preliminary hearing, Hossein Nayeri, 38, Bac Duong, 44, and Jonathan Tieu, 21, listened to a handful of law enforcement officers describe the men's disappearance from jail in January 2016 and their capture a week later.
Orange County sheriff's deputy Thanh Ha spoke about his interview of cab driver Long Ma, who spent a week with the fugitives. Ma told him the men initially hired him to drive to a store in Southern California but had him proceed to a dark area where they pulled a gun, took his wallet and had him move to the back seat of the car, the deputy said.
"He just felt from the first time that they put a gun to his ribcage that he did not have the ability to leave and he would be afraid that they would shoot him or kill him," Ha said, adding the inmates told him he had to stay on the bed in the hotel rooms where they stayed and ask permission to use the bathroom.
He said Ma left Northern California with Duong after Duong told him that Nayeri had wanted to kill him. Ma also said Duong had suggested he try to claim reward money offered for the capture of the inmates and wanted him to split the proceeds with Duong's mother, Ha said.
During the hearing, Duong listened to interpretation through headsets. Tieu and Nayeri seemed to exchange glances during the testimony, at times shaking their heads.
Afterward, Orange County Superior Court Judge James H. Pool found the trio could stand trial on charges of escape, unlawfully taking a vehicle and kidnapping to commit robbery.
The men, who previously pleaded not guilty, are due to appear in court June 20. The men's lawyers declined to comment after the hearing.
Authorities say the men broke out of a Santa Ana jail by climbing behind walls to the roof and rappelling down using bed linens. The inmates were on the run for a week, stealing a van and kidnapping a taxi driver, whose identification they used to check into hotel rooms, authorities said.
They headed to Northern California before Duong decided to return to Orange County with Ma and turn himself in. Nayeri and Tieu were recaptured by police in San Francisco.
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In separate unrelated cases, Duong is charged with attempted murder, Tieu with gang-related murder and Nayeri with torture and kidnapping.