In September 2008, just after midnight, my partner, Jason Kasner, and I were called to a homicide scene in an area colloquially known as “the Jungle.”
The Jungle is a wooded area just east of downtown Seattle, on the east side of Interstate 5 and south of Interstate 90. We’ve all been to murders in the Jungle. It’s rife with homeless camps, drug dealers, and other ne’er-do-wells.
On this early morning, our victim was identified as a black male named Major Lee Gay. He was known to dabble in the freelance pharmaceutical business. He’d been shot to death.
We didn’t have much information the morning of the murder, but after a short time, we were contacted by a Narcotics detective. He had an informant who told him that a Vietnamese person known to frequent the Jungle admitted to the informant that he’d shot Major.
We met with this informant, who spoke very little English. The informant repeated to us what he’d told the Narcotics guy. An older Viet suspect said he’d killed Major in conversation with the informant.
We applied for a wire authorization with a judge, requesting permission to put the wire on our informant. We would then facilitate a meeting between him and the suspect, hoping to get the suspect to admit on the recording that he’d killed Major.
The first time we wired the informant, we met him at Seattle Fire Station 28 in Rainier Valley. As the tech put the wire on him, I talked to him.
“Remember,” I said. “It’s essential that you say ‘Major’ and ‘shooting’ in your conversation. Can you do that?”
“Yes, yes!” he said enthusiastically.
He then went off for the meeting.
We could listen remotely to the conversation. However, they spoke in Vietnamese, so we couldn’t understand what was being said.
We later had an interpreter listen to the conversation. The informant didn’t discuss Major or the shooting at all.
A week or so later, we tried again.
“It’s very important,” I said, “that you get the suspect to talk about Major and the shooting. Do you understand?”
“Yes, yes!” he again said.
We sent him to meet with the suspect. Once again, no mention was made of Major or the shooting.
Later, we found that the suspect was in custody for an unrelated crime. We decided to bring him over for a chat.
We had a great friend who was an ICE agent. He was born in Vietnam. We used him as our interpreter.
Jason and Lee (the ICE agent) went into the interview room with the suspect. I watched on the other side of the one-way glass. (You don’t want more than two people in with the suspect during an interrogation.)
Jason interviewed the suspect, interpreted by Lee. At one point, Lee angrily yelled at the suspect in Vietnamese. Jason asked what that was about.
“He told me I don’t understand his dialect. I told him I understand all dialects, motherf**ker!”
After a few minutes, I spoke to Jason in the hall outside the interrogation room.
“Play a few seconds of the wire recording,” I said. “See what he says.”
Jason went back in and did that. The suspect didn’t know when that had been recorded. For all he knew, it was when he admitted the shooting. He changed his story, saying that he’d shot Major in self-defense.
He later pleaded guilty to the murder.