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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Gang member - Robberies
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: 1983 / August 19, 1988
Date of arrest: August 20, 1988
Date of birth: 1963
Victims profile: A musician / Byung Jin Kim, 40 (liquor store owner)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on November 1, 1991. Overturned in 2003. Sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on June 5, 2007

Sentenced: Nov. 1, 1991, age 28

Residence: Los Angeles

Crimes: Murder, robbery, kidnapping for robbery, attempted murder and attempted robbery

Date of crimes: Aug. 19, 1988

Location: Hawthorne Boulevard and 151st Street, Lawndale

Victim: Byung Jin Kim, 40

Status: Overturned, awaiting retrial

Dent ambushed the 40-year-old Hawthorne liquor store owner outside California First National Bank in Lawndale, shooting him three times through the driver’s window.

Dent then forced his way into Kim’s van, pushed Kim’s body to the passenger seat and sped away. A former policeman followed Dent, who shoved Kim out of the vehicle.

The officer confronted the killer in the Leuzinger High School parking lot, where Dent shot him in the shoulder.

Dent escaped with $80,000 cash, which Kim had withdrawn so he could cash his customers' checks. That night, Dent partied with friends and bragged about the killing. Police arrested him the next day.

In April 2003, the state Supreme Court reversed Dent’s conviction in the Kim case, saying a judge was wrong to deny Dent’s request to represent himself.

Dent, convicted of killing a musician in 1983, is awaiting a new trial.


Man who killed store owner expresses remorse

Former death row inmate Omar Dent III admitted killing man 17 years ago but points to extenuating circumstances.

By Denise Nix - Daily Breeze

Apr 6, 2006

Former death row inmate Omar Dent III admitted on the witness stand Tuesday that he killed a Hawthorne liquor store owner more than 17 years ago and became emotional in describing his remorse.

"Wow. If I had a time machine, I'd shoot myself in the head before I'd shoot Mr. (Byung Jin) Kim," Dent, 43, told a Torrance Superior Court jury.

Dent is on trial for the second time for the special-circumstances killing of Kim, 40, on Aug. 19, 1988, outside California First National Bank in Lawndale. He also is being retried for the attempted killing of a former police officer.

The state Supreme Court overturned his murder convictions and death sentence in 2003, finding that a judge was wrong to deny him the right to represent himself at trial.

The purported reformed gang member, wearing a cream-colored sweater and loose blue pants, sometimes rambled and repeated himself in his effort to convince the jury that, although he shot and killed Kim, there were reasons for his behavior beyond greed.

During questioning by Alternate Public Defender Kelly Buck, Dent said he had abused alcohol and drugs every day since he was 14, never worked a day in his life and was shot on three occasions in 1980, 1986 and 1988 while walking on the street.

The last shooting -- weeks before Kim's murder -- left Dent wearing a colostomy bag for nine months, he said.

The morning of Kim's killing, Dent said he headed south from his Los Angeles home in a car he stole the night before with the intent of doing "some dirt" -- which he explained was a "ghetto" term for doing something bad to get money.

He saw the bank and Kim going toward it with a flat, green backpack, Dent said.

"I thought to myself: 'Money!' " Dent said.

He parked the car a few blocks away and walked back.

He saw Kim return to his maroon van. "And the backpack was no longer flat, it was thick, and I immediately knew there was money in it," Dent testified.

Dent approached Kim in the locked van and told him to get out. Then he said he saw Kim reach down and grab a gun from the floor near the passenger seat.

The scene turned chaotic, he said, as he fired several rounds at Kim through the partially closed window. He said he reached through the glass shards, unlocked the door, pushed a still-breathing Kim to the side and drove off.

When the van stalled on a dead-end street near Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, Dent grabbed the backpack and ran. Intent on finding a quick way out, he noticed August Cardino sitting in a white car.

Dent said he demanded about four times that he get out but then shot the former police officer when the officer ignored him and reached down as if to grab a weapon.

Cardino, who died recently, testified during Dent's first trial that he followed Dent. He said he did reach down, but only to get the keys he dropped. The jury hearing the retrial was read Cardino's testimony.

Dent denied anyone else was involved, even though an eyewitness saw him get into a black El Camino similar to one his friend drove.

Dent said he threw the gun, which was later retrieved, into a bush and hid in an apartment carport until dark, then took a bus home. His friend and fellow gang member, Vernell Brown, picked him up at his house, and Dent said he told Brown about the robbery and hid the money at his house before the two went drinking at their gang's hangout.

Dent was arrested the next day with Brown after a tip from an anonymous informant.

Deputy District Attorney Warren Kato pushed Dent on details of the crime, including alleged accomplices, his plan to kill for money and the sincerity of his remorse -- including measures he could have taken to get help for Kim.

At some points, Kato's questioning grew contentious, prompting the defense to ask for a mistrial and Judge William Hollingsworth to warn the prosecutor to stop arguing with Dent or he would grant one.

Previously, a detective testified that a gun was found in Kim's van.

On Monday, a deputy medical examiner testified that Kim was shot three times, with two of the bullets causing fatal injuries. A ballistics expert testified Tuesday that the gun Dent ditched likely fired the bullets, based on fragments and casings recovered as evidence.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday. If the jury convicts Dent of special-circumstances murder, a penalty phase will begin next week and jurors will be asked to decide whether to recommend a death sentence.



Man Whose Death Sentence Was Vacated by S.C. Gets Life Term

Metropolitan News-Enterprise

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A South Los Angeles gang member convicted of killing a Hawthorne liquor store owner was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole yesterday, four years after his original death sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury last year found Omar Dent III, 44, guilty of first degree murder with a robbery special circumstance, but deadlocked as to penalty, with 8 of 12 jurors favoring his execution. A third trial was averted after prosecutors took the death penalty off the table and Dent waived all rights of appeal.

Dent was originally sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shook following a 1991 conviction. But the state’s highest court unanimously threw out the conviction and sentence in 2003, saying Shook violated the defendant’s constitutional rights by not allowing him to represent himself.

Justice Janice Rogers Brown, now a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said the court had to reversal “under compulsion of Faretta v. California (1975) 422 U.S. 806.”

While all seven justices signed Brown’s opinion for the court, Brown and Justices Ming Chin and Marvin Baxter joined in a separate concurrence that urged the nation’s highest court to reconsider whether judges should be required to allow defendants in capital cases to represent themselves.

Granting a second trial to Dent, who faced overwhelming evidence against him, “is hard to explain in any rational manner,” Chin wrote for the three. His defense lawyers did at least as good a job for him at trial as he could have done himself, Chin argued, yet he was entitled to a new trial, with the right to counsel if he chose.

(He was represented at the retrial by Kelly Buck and Jerome Haig of the Alternate Public Defender’s Torrance office.) 

Prior Conviction

Dent was convicted of robbing and killing Byung Kim, fleeing in his van and shooting a retired police officer who gave chase, in August 1988. Prosecutors said Dent ambushed the 40-year-old merchant after he withdrew $80,000 from a Lawndale bank in order to cash checks for customers.

The defendant, who was identified as a member of the Eight-Trey Crips gang, also was convicted in 1983 of involuntary manslaughter and was on parole—he reportedly was recommitted twice for parole violations after serving his original term—when he killed Kim.

The earlier conviction resulted from the shooting death of a patron at a takeout chicken eatery. Investigators said Dent apparently tried to rob the victim, and charged him with first degree murder, but prosecutors said they agreed to a manslaughter plea for fear their witnesses would be too afraid to testify.

In the Kim case, Dent was assigned Halvor Miller and Charles Maple as his defense lawyers, and after several continuances the case was set for trial on March 6, 1991. But Miller was in another murder trial, so Shook agreed, on March 5, that Maple could try the case alone if the defendant agreed.

The next day, however, Maple—who said he misunderstood what time he was supposed to be present—was more than an hour late.

Lawyers ‘Too Busy’

The judge, recounting a history of continuances and failures to appear, relieved the two lawyers, and told Dent that it was “clear and apparent to this court that they are just simply too busy to pay attention to your case and to give your case the attention that it deserves.”

Shook added:

“You must be represented by attorneys that are senior trial attorneys. And you have got to have people here to represent you. You cannot represent yourself in this matter. So that’s what I want to do and those are the reasons that I am doing it.”

Maple, after speaking to Dent, objected. The attorney said that Dent wanted him to proceed, and that if he could not have Maple as his lawyer, “the alternative he proposes to the court is that he proceed in pro. per.”

Shook replied:

“I am not going to let him proceed pro. per....Not in a death penalty murder trial.”

Dent told the judge he would rather represent himself than be saddled with two new attorneys who were unfamiliar with his case, but Shook rebuffed him and suggested he not speak further, lest he incriminate himself.

Brown, writing for the high court, said the judge got it wrong. Whether the defendant is facing the death penalty or not has no bearing on his rights under Faretta, she said.

The state argued on appeal that Dent did not unequivocally exercise his right of self-representation, saying he did not object to the subsequent  appointment of new attorneys. But in view of the judge’s previous comments, Brown said, the defendant may have felt that any objection was futile.

Dent was convicted again in April of last year.



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