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September 25, 2003

Judge finds Laguna Hills man insane at time of racial slaying

From: San Jose Mercury News, CA - Sept 25, 2003

Associated Press

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A deaf man convicted of murder was legally insane when he killed an Asian teenage neighbor out of racial hatred, a judge ruled Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino found that Christopher Hearn, 22, of Laguna Hills, lived in a "distorted world" and could not appreciate the wrongness of his actions under the "legal standard that we use."

Hearn was found guilty earlier this month in a non-jury trial of murdering Kenneth Chiu, 17, along with the special enhancements of lying in wait and targeting the victim because of his ethnicity.

"In my mind this is not an issue of being responsible for this," Makino said. "He's been found guilty of murdering" Chiu and killing him "because of Kenny Chiu's race."

"The question is: Was he sane or insane based on the legal standards that we use?" Makino said. "I think it's pretty obvious that I'm finding he was insane. I don't want anyone thinking this is absolving anyone."

Testimony showed that Hearn had "mild" racist beliefs in junior high school that worsened as he developed schizophrenia until he reached a point where he felt he was being ordered by the government to kill dangerous people, Makino said.

A recommendation on where Hearn should be sent for treatment should be received within 15 days, Makino said.

Hearn will be evaluated at the Orange County Jail and the judge will receive a yearly report once he's committed to a hospital, said Deputy Public Defender Lisa Kopelman.

"If doctors make a determination that he is sane and a jury concurs, he can get out," she said.

Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Carlisle-Raines said that Hearn had a racist belief system and dismissed the notion that drug use led to a psychosis.

"He says flat out that in his freshman year in high school, he had two interests, marijuana and white power," Carlisle-Raines said. "This is what he actually says and it is completely discounted and thrown away," she said.

Hearn stabbed Chiu about midnight July 30, 2001, as Chiu returned from a date. Chiu identified Hearn as the attacker before he died.

Investigators videotaped a sign-language interview of Hearn, who is deaf and cannot speak, and he said that he stabbed Chiu and hated Asians and other ethnic minorities.

© 2003 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.