4 Teens

TACOMA - In the end, a jury decided it didn't matter that 15-year-old Oloth Insyxiengmay was abandoned in the sixth grade and grew up with gangs on the streets.

Or that 18-year-old Nga Ngoeung was only the driver of the chase car and conceivably may not have known that his friend would pull the trigger.

A Pierce County Superior Court jury didn't buy those arguments by defense attorneys, and, within a matter of hours yesterday, found both youths guilty of murdering Michael Welden and Robert Forrest and trying to gun down two other teens.

Welden and Forrest and two other 17-year-olds were "cruising" in a Spanaway neighborhood shortly before midnight Aug. 25, throwing eggs at cars and homes, when they threw some at a home where Insyxiengmay, Ngoeung and another young gang member had gathered. All three gang members jumped into a car, chased the Spanaway youths and eventually sprayed their car with bullets. Forrest was at the wheel when he was killed, and Welden was shot while riding in the front passenger seat.

The jury convicted Ngoeung of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree assault. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Because jurors said they were unclear whether it was Insyxiengmay or a younger suspect who pulled the trigger - as defense attorney Bryan Hershman argued - Insyxiengmay was given a slightly reduced sentence: two counts of first-degree murder with

extreme indifference to human life (which does not include premeditation) and two counts of first-degree assault. He faces up to about a 75-year sentence, prosecutors said.

The third gang member, a 13-year-old, faces murder and assault charges and will be tried in Juvenile Court. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he testified against the older two during the trial and is expected to plead guilty to his involvement in the crime. In return, he will be released when he turns 21.

Both the Welden and Forrest families expressed relief at the verdicts and praised police and prosecutors.

"The main thing is these kids are going away for the rest of their lives," said Rick Welden, Michael's father.

Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg, who helped present the case, called the verdicts "a virtual 100 percent victory."

In closing arguments Wednesday, Ladenburg said the murders were the tragic result of "a clashing of two worlds." To illustrate the difference between those worlds, Ladenburg made a point of showing the courtroom each side's choice of "weapon."

In one hand, Ladenburg held up an empty carton that once held five dozen eggs; in the other, he held a high-powered hunting rifle.

"It really represents everything this case is about right here."

Ladenburg said the gang members felt justified in gunning down the Spanaway youths because they felt "dissed," or disrespected, by the egg-throwing. He said that Insyxiengmay grabbed a loaded gun from the home and that the three chased Forrest and his friends, fully intending to shoot at them.

At one point, Ladenburg said, the three deliberately waited for the four youths to drive out of a dead-end street before following them around a corner and opening fire.

Hershman, who represented Insyxiengmay, argued the slayings occurred after the gang members thought they were being attacked by a rival gang.

While not disputing that his client grabbed the gun, he argued that the 13-year-old was the shooter and framed Insyxiengmay to avoid the risk of life in prison. During the trial, Hershman called as witnesses two juveniles who had been incarcerated with the 13-year-old. The two testified the 13-year-old said he was the shooter.

Hershman said that when gang members grabbed the gun as they piled in the car, it was not because of a preconceived plan to shoot the egg throwers, but out of habit and self-defense. He said prosecutors lacked physical evidence and witnesses that would establish his client was the shooter.

Defense attorney Ray Thoenig, who represented Ngoeung, argued, among other things, that his client didn't know that shots would be fired.

The trial included more than 30 witnesses. Sentencing is set for June 27.