Tony Van Le, 44, was killed in 2008 by men who wanted to silence him and prevent him from testifying about a robbery in Bernal Heights at the Nasser Market. Larry Blay Jr., 22, and Kevin Abram were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for shooting Le before he could speak in court. Blay, in particular, gave instructions to a friend from jail to have the man murdered.
In the state of California, the murder of a witness is considered a murder under special circumstances (CA Penal Code, §190.2(a)(10)) and carries with it severe penalties – penalties that are much less severe than the robbers would have received had they left Le alive to testify.
However, this kind of decision is made more complicated by California’s “10-20-life ‘use a gun and you’re done’” law, which carries mandatory sentences of 10 years in state prison for using a gun during a robbery, 20 years in state prison for firing a gun, and 25 years to life for causing great bodily injury to someone during the course of a robbery or for killing them. Combine this with the “three strikes and you’re out” law and the result is criminals who are willing to kill in order to avoid doing time in prison for robbery. Perhaps this signals a problem with the laws themselves. If sentencing for robbery is the same as for murder, then it becomes that much more tempting to rid oneself of a witness to said robbery instead of beings sentenced for the robbery itself.