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Kruger gets 25 to life

Judge says victim was particularly vulnerable because of his size compared to the defendant's.

August 31, 2010|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com
(Mike Reicher | mike.reicher@latimes.com )

SANTA ANA — A former Newport Harbor High School football player was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years to life in prison for killing a Newport Beach liquor store owner and clerk during a shoplifting dispute over an adult magazine.

Weston Scott Kruger, 32, received the sentence for the 2007 killing of Hao "Tony" Huynh, the longtime proprietor of Sportsman's Liquor Store on Newport Boulevard.

On Tuesday, Kruger was dressed in a dark, somber suit that matched his demeanor. Just before leaving the courtroom, the judge commended Kruger for being cooperative during the trial. Kruger will be eligible for parole in 21 years after receiving credit for time already served.

"We'll never see him out of prison," Kruger's maternal grandmother said before the sentencing. She asked that her name not be published.

A jury in May found Kruger guilty of first-degree murder.

Huynh had confronted Kruger for shoplifting a pornographic magazine, witnesses testified earlier this year, and Kruger shoved him hard to the ground.

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The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Kruger used such force that he sent Huynh, a slight man, flying backwards. Huynh's head slammed against the concrete, critically injuring him. He later died at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian of a fractured skull and massive bleeding in the brain.

"The victim in this case was particularly vulnerable," said Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Hayes at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Huynh's wife and two children did not attend the sentencing or the trial. Huynh's wife worked at Sportsman's with him for 15 years. The pair was well-regarded in the community, their shop neighbors said.

At the time of the killing, Kruger was out of custody and on bail for separate charges of domestic violence and residential robbery. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of first-degree robbery and will serve that prison term concurrently with the murder sentence.

Kruger stills faces a jury trial in the domestic violence case, where he's accused of shoving his girlfriend's face into a bowl of moist dog food.

Kruger's attorney, Jeremy Dolnick, had requested a new murder trial Tuesday because of what he argued were faulty jury instructions, but Hayes denied the motion.

Dolnick argued that the court did not clarify the difference between misdemeanor robbery and a felony, and because the magazine robbery was a misdemeanor, the jury may have decided differently. He has 60 days to appeal.

Kruger was a stand-out player on Newport Harbor's football team, his grandmother said, before he fell in with the wrong crowd. He alternated living between her and his paternal grandparents' homes while growing up.

"He had such wonderful moments and such down times," she said. "I don't know how you ever can explain it."

As the bailiff escorted Kruger out of the courtroom he mouthed, "I love you, Grandma."

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