A man on Wednesday described the moments before a defendant carrying an automatic rifle opened fire in a small west Modesto home, according to his testimony, killing two people and seriously injuring him as he escaped.
Lee Pao Yang testified that Tou Vang Xiong appeared “very angry” after a lengthy argument with his girlfriend, Gao Sheng Her. Yang said Xiong was holding the AR-15 rifle and fired about five shots into the ceiling.
Yang said he was thinking, “Hopefully he doesn’t point the gun at anybody.” For the next 20 or 30 seconds, Her, Lee Pao Yang and Nhia Yang stared at Xiong in silence, he said.
Then, the defendant used both hands to aim the weapon at his girlfriend and fired three shots at her face, the surviving victim said on the witness stand. “She put her hands up to protect her face,” Yang said about Xiong’s girlfriend.
Xiong, of Atwater, is on trial, accused of murder in the shooting of his girlfriend and his friend, Nhia Yang. The defendant also faces charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
The shooting occurred about 5:20 a.m. July 20, 2009, at the home in the 1700 block of Radley Place. Nhia Yang lived in a detached room behind his family’s house.
Lee Pao Yang said he has spent the past four years trying to suppress the memories of the shooting, but that most of the details have come back to him now.
“I just don’t want to remember the incident,” Yang said during cross-examination.
He said they all had smoked methamphetamine in the detached room and that he fell asleep. Later, he said, he heard Xiong and his girlfriend arguing. He said in court that Xiong wanted to have sex, but his girlfriend didn’t want to have sex while the two other men were in the room.
Their argument continued for more than an hour before Lee Pao Yang got up to use the restroom in an attempt to avoid hearing the couple argue, he said. He returned about 15 minutes later and stood at the doorway. Xiong and his girlfriend were yelling at each other, and it was loud enough to wake up Nhia Yang.
That’s when Xiong fired the shots into the ceiling and then at his girlfriend, Lee Pao Yang testified. He said he saw Xiong’s girlfriend fall and the defendant swing the rifle in his direction.
He told the jury that one bullet struck his right bicep because he had placed his right hand on the doorway, while another struck his chin and third hit his left arm. But Lee Pao Yang didn’t know at the time he was hit by gunfire.
He said he immediately turned to get away, crouching to avoid the bullets as he had seen in movies. He had stopped behind the detached room to check for injuries when he noticed blood coming out of his mouth.
Lee Pao Yang testified that he then heard Xiong say in an angry tone, “This is what you get, Nhia.” He said he then heard a couple more shots before running away.
During cross-examination, the witness said Xiong and Nhia Yang were good friends, and that Xiong always called Nhia Yang by his nickname, “Money.” Nhia Yang’s sister has explained in court that her brother’s first name means money, and some would call him by his nickname.
Lee Pao Yang said he ran for about two blocks before he hid and used Xiong’s cellphone to call 911. He had been using Xiong’s phone to text-message his girlfriend because he didn’t have a cellphone.
The jury has heard a recording of the 911 call, in which Lee Pao Yang whispers to dispatchers who direct officers to find the injured man.
“I was scared of (Xiong) chasing me and killing me,” he testified.
He said he was hospitalized for about two weeks and underwent reconstructive surgery to repair the damage to his chin. Doctors placed a metal plate in the lower portion of his face to hold together his chin and teeth.
During cross-examination, Lee Pao Yang said he had known Xiong for about a month before the shooting. In that time, he said, he and the defendant would smoke meth about twice a day. He said Xiong was a drug dealer who sold drugs to him and his cousins, providing them with the meth they smoked.
Lee Pao Yang testified that he initially lied to detectives about his drug use because he was afraid of the consequences.
He said he hasn’t used drugs since the shooting, which had a profound effect on his life. “It was a big effect,” he said in court. “It changed my whole life.”
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.