A Sedgwick County jury began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a Wichita man who was involved in a Dec. 30, 2011, fatal shoot-out in the parking lot of a southeast Wichita restaurant.
Steven Louis, 23, is standing trial for felony murder for his role in the death of Kao Saechao, 19, outside the Bai Wei restaurant at 1845 S. Rock Road. He is facing a total of 12 counts, five of which accuse him of taking part in a drive-by shooting that occurred shortly after the shooting in the 2200 block of South Stoneybrook, about a mile from the restaurant.
Wichita police said the shooting grew out of a feud between the Asian Boyz and Viet Boyz street gangs.
During the trial, prosecutors said Louis and Saechao were affiliated with the Asian Boyz. The defense claimed that Louis acted in self-defense, returning fire after a member of the Viet Boyz gang began shooting at him from inside an SUV driving through the restaurant parking lot. Louis did not testify.
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During his closing argument, defense lawyer Val Wachtel said his client acted in self-defense.
“There is no evidence whatsoever – none – that Michael Saechao was killed by Steven Louis,” Wachtel said. “The reason there is no evidence of this is because that’s not what happened.”
Wachtel said Louis was at the restaurant and returned fire only after members of the Viet Boyz began firing at him from inside an SUV.
“When the shooting started he tried to protect himself and his friends the only way he knew, and that was to drive away the SUV,” Wachtel said. “How many other people would have been killed had (the SUV) not been driven away?”
Wachtel conceded that ballistic tests showed that the gun that Louis used to fire 15 shots in the restaurant parking lot was the same gun that fired 18 rounds in the drive-by shooting.
“What it doesn’t tell you is who was shooting,” he said. “You don’t know how that gun got to Stoneybrook or who had it.”
Prosecutor Trinity Muth said it was logical to conclude that Louis was the shooter on Stoneybrook.
“Nobody else had a motive,” he told the jury. “Who else would do it? The Viet Boyz? Would they do it to their own?”
Aaron Breitenbach, who also prosecuted the case, said the shoot-out at the restaurant was a “mutual combat” situation, and he said it didn’t matter which side fired the first shot.
“This trial is about this defendant and whether or not he broke the law in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 2011,” he said. “The defendant was discharging his firearm, and a death occurred – even if it wasn’t him who shot Michael Saechao.”