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Jury Begins Deliberating In Vietnamese Student’s Trial

February 13, 1985

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) _ A jury on Wednesday began deliberating the case of a 21-year-old Vietnamese refugee accused of murdering a physics professor who had aided post-war Vietnam.

Minh Van Lam was described in final arguments by Deputy District Attorney Mel Jensen as ″a cold-blooded killer,″ but defense attorney Alan May insisted that Professor Edward Cooperman was accidentally shot Oct. 13 in his office on the campus of California State University at Fullerton, southwest of Los Angeles.

″The defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree, and nothing less,″ Jensen said Monday.

The jury was instructed Wednesday morning by Superior Court Judge Richard Beacom, then retired to deliberate. Court was adjourned Tuesday, a legal holiday.

Jensen contended that Lam shot his former teacher in the neck and fled three hours before notifying police that Cooperman was dead.

Cooperman, 48, headed a non-profit organization that provided technical equipment and advice to scholars and physicians in post-war Vietnam.

His widow and friends testified during the two-week trial that he had feared assassination by right-wing Vietnamese gangs and bought handguns for protection.

However, May noted in his closing argument that no motive was offered by the prosecution.

″Why would this young man, with premeditation and malice aforethought, want to go in and kill Dr. Cooperman?″ May asked. ″Where’s the motive? Where’s the beef? All we know is Dr. Cooperman did everything and anything to help this young man.″

Jensen countered that he was not required to say why a victim is murdered but suggested that there were motives of money, disapproval of Cooperman’s relations with Communist Vietnam or possible sexual advances by the professor.

The prosecutor said the homosexuality theory was speculative and added that the defense had ininuated during the trial that Cooperman was homosexual.

According to testimony, Lam called police three hours after the shooting - after going to the movie ″Purple Rain″ with a girlfriend, claiming at first that Cooperman was dead when he found him.

Later, Lam told detectives that Cooperman was showing him how to hold a .25-caliber pistol when the gun discharged. He said he panicked and fled, then returned to place the gun in Cooperman’s hand before calling police.

Jensen disputed Lam’s claims, saying the bullet’s trajectory indicated that the professor was shot as he sat behind his desk and apparently as he was reaching for a gun in one of the drawers.

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