A Sacramento Superior Court jury Friday acquitted Teng Thao, the alleged "homeless hit man," of murder charges in the Jan. 9, 2011, shotgun shooting death of Jenny Cha.
The jury returned its verdict after more than a day of deliberations. The 59-year-old Thao was expected to be released later Friday.
"I think they did a diligent job," Assistant Public Defender Norm Dawson said of the panel's verdict. "They had asked for a reread of a large portion of the case again, and I think they did that so they could make certain they were making the right call."
Jurors quickly left the courthouse after the verdict, but Dawson said, "I think they decided there just wasn't the evidence" that his client did it.
Prosecutors charged Thao with setting up in a field next to a West Lemon Hill apartment building that had been converted into a gambling den.
Cha, 25, who was in the gambling parlor at 37th Street and 45th Avenue, had stepped outside for a cigarette around 3:15 a.m. when she was shot in the back with a shotgun that had been pointed at her through a fence.
"I respect the jury's right to reach a verdict which is contrary to my view of the evidence," Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely said in an emailed statement.
"We had our day in court and they have spoken," Shakely said. "Although I am disappointed in the outcome, I applaud the process. That's what justice is all about."
Authorities believed it was a jealous ex-boyfriend who arranged the killing.
Dawson argued to the jury that the witnesses who identified Thao as being in the field on the other side of the fence, then leaving it in the moments after the shooting couldn't be believed
"The jury asked for readbacks from both witnesses who claimed they saw him in the field," Dawson said afterward. "After that, they deliberated some more yesterday and reached their verdicts right after that. I think that was the critical portion of the case."
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