Orange County District Attorney
Press Release

Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701

For Immediate Release
September 13th, 2005
Contact:Mark Macaulay
Media Relations Spokesperson
(714) 347-8405

Santa Ana – An Orange County jury imposed the death penalty on Los Angeles gang member Tupoutoe Mataele, 32, for the 1997 execution style murder of Danell Johnson and the attempted murder of John Masubayashi.  On August 3, 2005, Co-defendant Minh Nghia Lee and Mataele, also known as “T-Strong,” were convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and the special circumstance of “lying in wait.”  The victims were friends with the defendants and were trying to end their criminal relationship with the defendants when the murder was committed. 




Victims Johnson and Masubayashi were involved in a criminal enterprise involving bank fraud and methamphetamine sales in Los Angeles with James Chung, Ryan Carillo, Lee and Mataele.  Chung became upset with the victims because he felt that they were not doing their part in the crimes.  Mataele was not personally upset at the victims.  The victims then moved to Anaheim to get away from the group.  While high on drugs in Los Angeles, the group talked about killing the two.  Defendant Mataele volunteered to use his .357 magnum to kill the victims. 


On November 12, 1997, the defendants left downtown Los Angeles to murder the victims.  On their way to Anaheim, the defendants met with another gang member in Norwalk who tried to talk the group out of killing the victims.  On the freeway to Anaheim, the group was stopped and issued a ticket by a California Highway Patrol officer.  The law enforcement contact did not deter the group. 


When the group arrived in Anaheim, Mataele and Carillo lured the victims by inviting them to a strip club.  As they were leaving, Masubayashi and Johnson were contacted by Anaheim Police officers.  This second law enforcement contact did not deter the group.  Mataele, while sitting in the backseat of the victims’ car, told the victims to pull the car over to a dark parking lot where Chung and Lee were hiding. 

After Mataele got out of his car, he shook Johnson’s hand.  While he felt the warmth of Johnson’s right hand, Mataele shot Johnson in the head with his other hand.  Mataele then shot Masubayashi on the chest and shot at him three more times until the victim was able get help from a security guard.  They left Masubayashi to die who survived only through heroic medical efforts.  Masubayashi lives today with a bullet lodged in his back.