Barbara Ann Hamel walked into court Friday to be sentenced. The 50-year-old had pleaded guilty last December to second-degree murder in the September 2010 killing of 55-year-old Chi Ngoc Bui in Santa Ana.
But Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg allowed Hamel to withdraw her guilty plea after she claimed co-defendants Tad Allen Carroll, 45, and Michael William Ross, 29, drugged her before the killing.
Investigators believed Ross was looking for big winners at the casino for his cohorts to rob. They believe he tipped off Carroll and Hamel, who were waiting outside the casino in a car. Prosecutors allege that Hamel and Carroll followed Bui home from Hawaiian Gardens Casino to rob him of $10,000 in winnings.
"We allege that she's the driver in the case. Carroll gets out to do the robbery of Mr. Bui. A fight ensues, she slides over and tries to make it into a getaway car, and during that, runs Mr. Bui over and kills him," said prosecutor Larry Yellin.
Before sentencing, the prosecutor read a statement from Bui's sister: "His loss caused a big financial hardship for our family and we hope that justice will be served to keep these criminals off the street so they won't hurt other innocent people."
The judge read Hamel's sentence -- 15 years to life in prison -- but soon after, Hamel spoke up.
"Your honor, forgive me. I really do need to put this off for one more month," she said.
Hamel then told the court she was drugged with GHB when the crime happened and asked for further testing.
"I would like to have my hair tested for GHB," said Hamel. "I would not have willingly been at that crime. I feel terribly about their loss. I would never kill anyone, intentionally or unintentionally."
The judge told Hamel he could not sentence her to prison if she says she's not guilty of the charge, so Hamel withdrew her guilty plea. Hamel is expected to return to court next month.
Yellin said he was surprised about Hamel's drug claims.
"All along we believed we were here for a sentencing," he said. "I don't think there's any evidence about any GHB. I don't think there's any reality that that was a component to this."
Meantime, Carroll was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The plea deals that had been accepted by all three defendants guaranteed them chances at parole. If convicted at trial, they would face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ross struck a deal with prosecutors last September in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
City News Service contributed to this report.