Plea changed in Atwater man's homicide case

rahumada@modbee.comMarch 25, 2013 

An Atwater man accused of shooting to death two people in west Modesto about four years ago pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity during a hearing Friday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Tou Vang Xiong's trial was scheduled to start April 22, but that was canceled after he entered the new plea. Now, it will be up to a jury to determine whether he was insane when the shooting occurred.

Xiong, 28, has been charged with murder in the deaths of Merced resident Gao Sheng Her, 23, and Modesto resident Nhia Yang, 27, about 5:20 a.m. July 20, 2009.

The defendant also faces charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the incident at a home in the 1700 block of Radley Place, a few blocks east of Paradise Road in west Modesto.

Authorities apprehended Xiong at a nearby home shortly after the shooting. At the time, Modesto police said a third victim in the shooting, a 21-year-old Modesto man, was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

On Friday morning, Xiong entered the courtroom wearing a red-and-white striped jail inmate jumpsuit. The front portion of his head was shaved, while the rest was tied tightly into a long ponytail.

He sat next to his defense attorney, Ruben Villalobos, and confirmed for the judge that he wanted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Judge Scott Steffen scheduled a jury trial to start Dec. 9 to hear testimony about the shooting and Xiong's state of mental health. The judge said doctors Jocelyn Roland and Kimberly Smith will examine the defendant and make a diagnosis.

Steffen also scheduled a pretrial hearing on April 22, because Deputy District Attorney John Baker wants to ensure all the witnesses will be available to testify in December. The trial is estimated to last about three weeks. Xiong remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.

Modesto Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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