Kevin Q. Nguyen maintained a reserved look as he sat before Judge Mary Beth McCormick in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Monday to plead guilty to attempted second-degree murder.
According to prosecutors Mary Beth Ayres and Patrick Mays, Nguyen wore a different expression at 2:30 p.m. May 18 when he opened fire on another 16-year-old teen in the crowded Rockville Metro station, striking the teen four times. Nguyen also shot a 19-year-old bystander, he claimed by accident, as she scrambled to find cover, Ayres told McCormick after Nguyen himself affirmed his plea.
Under his plea, Nguyen admitted his guilt in the attempted murder charge as well as for a handgun offense and will face a maximum of 50 years in jail at his sentencing hearing in March. Nguyen also waived his right to appeal his sentence and gave up his right to ask for his case to be transfered to the juvenile justice system in the agreement.
“Is it your wish to voluntarily give up these rights and plead guilty to attempted second-degree murder and the use of a handgun in a violent crime?” McCormick asked him.
“Yes ma’am,” Nguyen said in a loud, clear voice.
Thomas M. Degonia and Paul F. Kemp, Nguyen’s defense attorneys, expressed their client’s condolences to the victims following the hearing and briefly addressed their plans heading into Nguyen’s sentencing. Because Nguyen pleaded guilty to a handgun offense he will face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in jail, Kemp said.
“That said, we will be asking for the shortest sentence possible,” he added. “It’s a shame that the young man was shot and it’s a shame that the innocent bystander was shot and that’s how Kevin feels, as well.”
County State’s Attorney John McCarthy vowed that prosecutors will seek a sentence “substantially in excess” of the guidelines for attempted second-degree murder, which stand at four to nine years due to the disregard for innocent lives.
“The thing that is most shocking to me is that this took place during broad daylight with, I’m told, a minimum of 30 people who could have very easily been victims, themselves,” McCarthy said following the plea hearing.
Although defense attorneys were able to cast doubt on the attempted murder charges against Tavares D. Harris, Nguyen’s 18-year-old co-defendant, during his trial last week, Nguyen admitted that he was the shooter when he was arrested a short distance away from the station. Witness accounts and surveillance footage also confirmed Nguyen as the shooter, Ayres said.
Harris was convicted of first-degree assault and the use of a handgun in a violent crime, but the jury was unable to render a verdict on his attempted murder charges.
Donna Harris, Tavares’ mother, also was present at Nguyen’s plea hearing Monday. She maintained that her son did not provide the gun to Nguyen as the state claimed but also expressed sympathy for the victims. Donna Harris also expressed her disappointment that several teens who testified against her son were not themselves charged in the case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys admitted at Harris’ trial that some of the teens could have been accomplices to the shooting, Donna Harris said.
“I think that all of us are hurting; no one wins in this case,” she said. “The bad guys, to me, are still out there and that’s very unfortunate.”
Ayres acknowledged that several other teens discussed a shooting prior to May 18, but she reiterated the state’s position that Harris and Nguyen were the only two participants who took the discussion to another level.
“There’s no one else who had even close to the culpability of Harris and Nguyen,” Ayres said. “The others discussed [the shooting], Harris and Nguyen acted on it.”