Courts & Crime

Key evidence hearing set for Laos overthrow plot in California

The quality of federal prosecutors' evidence against 12 men accused of plotting the violent overthrow of the communist regime in Laos is headed for its biggest test yet.

With the case well over 3 years old and no trial date set, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. has set an evidentiary hearing in Sacramento on four defense motions that allege the case is built on lies and omissions by an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to obtain wiretaps and search warrants.

How Damrell decides those motions could make or break the case.

While the defense has a very high — perhaps insurmountable — standard it must meet, the hearing is not good news for the prosecution. It is convened under authority granted to a federal trial judge by a landmark 1978 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Franks v. Delaware.

The defense argues the government did not meet the statutory requirements for wiretaps on the phones of Harrison Jack, a retired Army lieutenant colonel from Woodland, and Hmong American Lo Cha Thao, regarded as a shameless self-promoter in his ethnic community. They are arguably the defendants at the greatest risk of conviction.

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