Two trials, two fates: The fishing boat murder prosecuted under federal maritime law
A woman in an alcoholic 'downward spiral' formed a fast friendship with a drug dealer who ended up shooting a man on her boat during a midnight fishing trip.
Reporter’s note: I wrote this article for my friends at Picket Fence Media in south Orange County, California, publishers of the Dana Point Times, San Clemente Times and Capistrano Dispatch. Please read the full article at DanaPointTimes.com. (If you’re local, pick up this week’s issue, out today.)
In the 3½ years since FBI agents smashed through the door of a San Juan Capistrano condominium to interrogate a murder suspect, one thing has never been in dispute: Oct. 14, 2019 was a beautiful night at the Dana Point Harbor.
A full moon hung over the Pacific Ocean as Sheila Marie Ritze, Hoang Xuan “Wayne” Le and Tri “James” Minh Dao made their way out past the jetties on Ritze’s 20-foot fishing boat called Sea Koenig.
It was nearly 70 degrees with no wind, and the three were embarking on a trip that Ritze had taken many times before.
Except this time, all the other fishing boats had finished their fun hours ago. It was now close to midnight, and the three were alone on the water and farther out than normal—nearly 3 miles from shore—when gunshots rang out.
Dao ended up dead in the water, his body spotted by a fisherman in Oceanside three days later. Le and Ritze took the boat back to the harbor that night, then embarked on a stakeout of Dao’s girlfriend using a GPS tracker that culminated in their arrest by federal agents a week before Christmas.
A key piece of evidence in Ritze’s trial was the above cellphone video of her and her former mother-in-law at a Billy Idol concert in Las Vegas. Prosecutors alleged Ritze and Le’s conspiracy to murder Dao began when they were in Vegas for the concert and Ritze’s 40th birthday. Sandra Ritze testified that they went to the concert after Sheila told her they planned to kill Dao, so Sheila’s lawyer David Wiechert focused on their happy demeanor in the video to try to discredit Sandra’s testimony. Jurors asked to rewatch the video during their deliberations.
Ritze’s sentencing memorandums are available below for my paid subscribers. Her letter is included, as is Dao’s mother’s letter. Paid subscribers also can access Le’s motion for new trial, prosecutors’ opposition and Le’s reply. U.S. District Judge David O. Carter denied the motion last week.