An 83-year-old man was sentenced Friday to lifetime probation with a suspended sentence of 16 years in state prison for murdering his 94-year-old rehabilitation center roommate by repeatedly hitting him in the head with a wooden rod, according to a release from the Orange County District Attorney's office.
William Leo McDougall, 83, pleaded guilty on Aug. 17 to one felony count of murdering Manh Van Nguyen, with a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon.
McDougall's mental state at the time played a large part in determining his sentence, as did the wishes of the victim’s family, McDougall's lack a of criminal record, his advanced age, and medical condition.
On Oct. 1, 2010, McDougall was sharing a room at Palm Terrace Healthcare Center in Laguna Woods with Nguyen as they both recovered from hip surgeries. That night while lying in bed, McDougall mistakenly believed that his wife was sleeping beside him, and mistakenly thought that his quietly-sleeping roommate, Nguyen, was singing loudly. McDougall became angry and got out of bed to silence the victim, believing that Nguyen was disturbing the defendant’s wife, who in reality was not present.
McDougall took a wooden rod from the closet in their room and hit Nguyen multiple times in the head with the rod. A nurse, who had been approaching the room, reported the incident to staff members, who restrained McDougall.
The victim was taken to the hospital, where he died due to blunt force trauma to the head.
Nguyen’s wife of 58 years and four adult children, who viewed a video interview and confession from the defendant in 2010, submitted a family letter for the court, which says in part, “We got to hear what actually happened to our father ... and how he was killed (and most importantly, hearing directly from the person who did it and admitted it). We fully understand nothing can be done now that will bring our father back to us. This is a real tragedy in which all parties involved have suffered tremendous losses and will continue to suffer for years to come. It is indeed a lose-lose situation for all.”
McDougall’s wife submitted a letter for the victim’s family, which says in part, “Our entire family is devastated by what Bill did, which we cannot explain, and nothing could ever justify Bill’s conduct. I can only say that his actions must have been the product of illness ... his surgery, old age, or a combination of factors unknown to me. I realize what an unbelievable nightmare this has caused the Nguyen family and the McDougall family ... I offer my sincere condolences on behalf of the entire family and ask for forgiveness for Bill, even in spite of the terrible pain he has caused, only because the ‘real’ man I have known for over 58 years is not the one [who has] done this horrible deed.”
The OCDA submitted a sentencing brief, which says in part, “Mr. Nguyen was an honorable 94-year-old man who was very much loved and respected by everybody who knew him, especially his family ... Doing the right thing is not always easy. This is most certainly true in this case. As a prosecutor, it is much easier to argue that a defendant convicted of murdering an innocent victim should be sentenced to spend the rest of his or her life in prison. In the vast majority of murder cases, that would be the right and just thing to do. Not in this case. The People’s objective is not to do what’s easy; rather, it is to do what’s right, fair, and just.”
The OCDA continues, “The People’s recommendation [for lifetime probation] in this case is in no way, shape, or form a reflection solely of the value of the life of Mr. Nguyen. If that was the case and the People’s recommendation was to be made solely based on the value of the life of Mr. Nguyen or on the harm that was inflicted upon him and his family, the People’s recommendation would have been a sentence of life in prison. However, as the law dictates, the People’s recommendation is based on the totality of all the circumstances relating to the specific facts of the crime, the victim, and the defendant. This is a tragic case and it has been so since day one.”