US veteran pushes for extradition in grizzly Nha Trang slaying

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A bereaved family hopes a veteran will convince the US to extradite a convicted sex offender suspected of murdering a hairdresser

Michael Cull (bottom right photo), an American veteran and English School director, is working with a group of concerned veterans to put pressure on the US government to extradite Timothy George Doran (top right photo), who is wanted in connection with the murder of Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc (left). Ngoc's corpse was discovered in a house occupied by Doran a week after he left Vietnam with his two children. Photo: David Wilson

In March 2011, a Nha Trang landlord dropped by one of her rental properties to check on reports that her tenant, an American English teacher named Tim, had been fighting.

The front gate was locked. But she sensed something was wrong"”a horrible stench emanated from the house. In the evening, she returned and entered the home. There, in a cupboard, she discovered the body of Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc in an advanced state of decay. Someone had taped her mouth and nose shut, beat her unrecognizable and strangled her to death.

Suspicion fell on her tenant who turned out to be a convicted sex offender named Timothy George Doran (born 1965). Doran left Vietnam with his two small sons just over a week before the landlord's gruesome discovery, after spending less than a year in Nha Trang.

The murder of the 24-year-old hairdresser rattled the quiet seaside town. Michael Cull, 68, a former client of Ngoc's, was particularly troubled.

"I was shocked, stunned and deeply saddened that Ngoc met such a violent death," he said.

The American vet contends that everyone who knew Ngoc would vouch that she was "very smart, friendly and an innocent victim of a man who became obsessed with making her his woman."

On Wednesday (June 6), Cull traveled to Seattle, where Doran remains in custody for failing to register as a sex offender. Doran has plead not guilty to the charge and is scheduled to go to trial on the unrelated charge in October.

In the meantime, Cull and a group of concerned veterans plan to lobby the US Attorney's Public Affairs Office for Doran's extradition.

A criminal past

In 1992, police in Buckley, Washington, arrested Doran and charged him with assault, rape and robbery. He pleaded guilty to rape in the second degree and spent the next seven years in prison.

After his release, Doran continued to keep police informed of his whereabouts, in accordance with US law. He found work as a truck driver and married a Vietnamese woman named Hong. Together, they had two sons.

Sandra Couture, a Vietnamese immigrant who trained Doran's wife to be a hairdresser remembered that they fought a lot during their brief marriage.

"She tried to leave him many times," she said by telephone. "She didn't really speak English then."

According to court records, Hong T. Doran filed for a restraining order against her husband in 2009 in a divorce case that would drag on into the following year. That same year, Doran left their home and moved into an apartment in Seattle.

The divorce never went to trial and court records reflect that Doran won full custody of children by default. Couture says she totally lost touch with Hong. "She disappeared," she said.

A little while later, Couture ran into Doran in a supermarket.

"He said he got a lawyer and got the kids," she said. "He said he was going to live with a woman in Vietnam."

Doran told the same thing to his landlord, according to a federal complaint, before moving out and leaving the US in the September of 2010.

The mystery man

Doran arrived in Nha Trang with two Asian-American children in late 2010. According to Cull, he told strangers that the kids' mother was a Thai woman who had abandoned the family in the states.

"This sad story attracted many young ladies to sympathize and support him," Cull says, adding that Doran posed as a fit, friendly victim of a runaway wife.

Cull says Doran approached him for a teaching job in February. After a 45 minute interview cull says he found Doran "unqualified with no training certificates or experience teaching anywhere except in his own home with a few students."

Cull encouraged Doran to get certified, and denied him the chance to work at his school. He did not think much about Doran again, until Ngoc broached the subject.

"She actually asked me if I knew Doran because he wanted her to be his girlfriend," Cull says. Replying that he did not know him well, Cull gestured with his arms that she should push him away because Cull had heard "he was not such a good guy."

"Nothing more was said and - next thing I learned about 10 days later - is that she was killed," Cull says.

Extradition "a definite maybe"

Ngoc's relatives remain hopeful that he will be brought to trial in Vietnam.

"Apart from the obvious loss of her young life, her death has brought much grief to our family. In particular, the grief has caused our mother's health to deteriorate. It has taken its toll on her physical well being - and mentally she is severely depressed," Ngoc's sister, Bich wrote to Vietweek via email.

"The crime was committed in Vietnam," Bich added. "It is only fair and right that Doran faces the Vietnamese judicial system. Please understand that what we seek is not vengeance, but basic justice that everyone deserves, regardless of who they are or where they are in the world," she said.

According to a federal complaint, Doran flew from Taipei to Seattle on March 9, 2011, six days before Ngoc's body was discovered. In the days following the murder, Nha Trang police kept a tight lid on the story. The suspect, they advised media outlets, was on the run and appeared to be monitoring Vietnamese news stories.

Nha Trang police told sources close to Vietweek that they are trying to contact Interpol about the case. According to the Interpol website, however, no warrant for Doran has been issued.

The investigators consider Doran a suspect in Ngoc's murder and are trying to obtain samples of his DNA through diplomatic channels. Without such evidence, they say, they'll have a hard time issuing an arrest warrant.

Federal agents issued a warrant for Doran's arrest in October 2011 after realizing that he was no longer living at his apartment in Seattle.

Doran turned himself in four days before Christmas and plead not guilty to the charge of failing to register as a sex offender. His trial on that charge has been delayed until October 2012.

"The allegations regarding the murder in Vietnam have been discussed in open court during proceedings related to continuing the trial date," said US Attorney's Public Affairs Officer Emily Langlie.

The US Consulate has not responded to a list of questions pertaining to the case.

Philadelphia Attorney Michael Duffy described the chances of the US extraditing an American citizen to Vietnam as "a definite maybe."

The US extradites its citizens all the time, he said, but it does not currently have an extradition treaty with Vietnam. Except when a suspect is a Vietnamese citizen, extraditions to Vietnam are extremely rare, he says. Without a treaty, extradition may be granted on a case-by-case basis by the Secretary of State in this case Hillary Clinton.

That almost never happens, Duffy says, but adds that the picture may be changing.

"Given the recent, significant warming of relations between Vietnam and the US, economically, militarily and diplomatically, I think this sort of cooperation and reciprocity will become more and more common as time goes on."

By David Wilson (Calvin Godfrey contributed to this report)
(The story can be found in the June 8th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)

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