A 23-year-old Olympia man is being held in Thurston County jail without bail in connection with the fatal shooting of a Tumwater man Saturday outside a local supermarket. Deputies arrested John Nguyen on suspicion of first-degree murder Saturday night.
The arrest came soon after deputies were called to the WinCo parking lot at 7540 Martin Way East near Lacey and found a 26-year-old Tumwater man who had been shot and killed.
Nguyen virtually attended his preliminary appearance in Thurston County Superior Court on Monday. He sat alongside Eric Pilon, his public defense attorney, at the jail while Court Commissioner Nathan Kortokrax found probable cause for the charges against Nguyen and set no bail.
Court documents initially accused Nguyen of second-degree murder. However, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth McMullen requested probable cause be found for first-degree murder based on new information.
McMullen said detectives found a firearm and three empty magazines capable of holding 10 rounds in Nguyen’s backpack. She said the victim had more than 10 wounds, meaning the shooter must have reloaded the firearm.
“The victim was sitting in a vehicle,” McMullen said. “The defendant just walked up on him and started shooting. The number of wounds that were sustained indicate again that more than one magazine had been loaded into the firearm that was used.”
Pilon pushed back against upgrading the charge to first-degree, saying there was no evidence of premeditation or motive. He said this attack appeared random.
“The reality of this is that my client and the deceased are completely unrelated to one another,” Pilon said. “They have no past history together.”
Kortokrax decided to find probable cause for second-degree murder but followed McMullen’s recommendation to set no bail.
The victim’s sister, Anna Petelo, addressed the court during the hearing. Over heavy sobs, she asked for Kortokrax to set no bail, and called for justice for her brother.
“For 26 years, he hasn’t hurt anyone,” Petelo said. “He has worked hard for our family. It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all that I’m here when he isn’t.”
While acknowledging the tragedy at hand, Pilon said law enforcement may have arrested the wrong guy. He requested bail be set at $100,000, given Nguyen’s financial situation.
“The more that we are getting into the case … it strongly indicates, the state’s case is based on circumstantial assertions that may well not pan out,” Pilon said.
Nguyen has no known criminal convictions, according to court documents.
A probable cause statement describes the investigation into the alleged crime from the perspective of law enforcement.
At 9:46 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, a deputy responded to a call about shots being fired in the area of 1111 Horn St. NE. A witness told the deputy she heard five to six shots and then more shots after she called 911.
She reportedly said she saw a man fire a handgun behind the nearby WinCo before disappearing behind a wall. She heard more shots afterwards, according to the statement.
The deputy contacted more witnesses at 10 p.m. who told him they saw a man shooting a firearm on Horn Street. Their descriptions of the man matched a person the deputy observed a few minutes earlier, according to the statement.
The man reportedly wore a “greenish gray puffy jacket” and a red backpack. Deputies searched the area for bullet casing but did not initially find any.
About 15 minutes later, deputies received a report of a man who had been shot in the nearby WinCo parking lot. At the scene, they found the victim on the ground with his brother next to him.
Deputies rendered aid until a fire crew arrived to take over, but the victim died at the scene. He reportedly had several gunshot wounds on the left side of his neck and body.
Beside the victim, deputies noted a vehicle with a shattered passenger side window and a bullet hole through the passenger side door.
Several spent 9-millimeter bullet casings were in the area around the vehicle, as well as one unspent hollow point round, according to the statement.
The victim’s phone was still playing music.
Lacey police officers later located and detained Nguyen near Martin Way East and Carpenter Road. Deputies reportedly confirmed this was the same man they previously observed.
In an interview, Nguyen told deputies he had been walking home on the “main road.” When asked what he was doing behind the WinCo, he reportedly said he was looking at some nearby houses since he recently moved.
Deputies also asked Nguyen if he had heard any gunshots. He said he did, according to the statement.
Detectives obtained video surveillance from the WinCo. Though the video didn’t capture the shooting, it allegedly showed Nguyen walking away from the driver side area of the car after the shooting.
More 9 mm casings were located along a brick wall surrounding the WinCo parking lot, according to the statement. They also found casings in a grassy area near some stairs leading to Horn Street from the parking lot.
Detectives obtained a search warrant and looked through Nguyen’s backpack. They allegedly found a Glock 9 mm handgun, three empty magazines, an empty box of 9 mm ammunition, a partially full box of 9 mm ammunition and two lose rounds of nickel plated, 9 mm ammunition.
The statement says the rounds matched the bullet and casings found at the scene of the shooting.
In an interview, the victim’s brother told police they had gone to WinCo to buy groceries and the victim stayed in the car while he went inside. When he returned, he reportedly found the car window broken.
He then saw his brother bleeding and unconscious in the driver seat. He pulled him onto the ground, thinking he had been stabbed.
A deputy who initially responded to the shooting observed Nguyen when he was later detained, according to the statement. He said he saw Nguyen yelling in the back of a patrol car.
Nguyen allegedly said, “Let me out of this (expletive) car” over and over again. At one point, he allegedly threatened to kill law enforcement and their families and burn their houses.