PENDLETON, ORE. — Although he talked freely about how he committed the crimes, it’s still unclear why a Marine deserter from California fatally stabbed an Eastern Oregon motel maid and beat another woman with a metal pipe, an investigator says.
Lukah Chang pleaded guilty in January and has been sentenced to life in prison for the two attacks that unnerved Pendleton.
In an extensive story that also reported on an interview with Chang’s sister, the East Oregonian described law enforcement authorities as still puzzled about Chang’s motive.
“I don’t think even he can answer that,” said Police Chief Stuart Roberts. “If he could, he would have.”
In July 2012, Chang got on a bus and left the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. He arrived at Pendleton in Eastern Oregon in August.
Roberts said Chang told detectives he watched 19-year-old Amyjane Brandhagen clean rooms at the Travelodge — one of the motels he stayed in until he ran out of money.
Chang said he noted that she opened rooms she planned to clean and closed doors when she entered. He told detectives he circled behind the motel, crept to an open room and waited for her, Roberts said. Her body was found later that day.
Chang was captured the next year after he tried to beat a 53-year-old woman to death on a riverside jogging path. Using surveillance video, detectives identified him as a homeless person they knew and found him hiding in the local convention center.
Roberts said Chang wouldn’t talk about why he left the Marines and wouldn’t discuss the wife he left behind.
Chang’s lawyer, L. Kent Fisher of Pendleton, said he was unlike any defendant he’s represented. Recalling interrogation video, Fisher said Chang didn’t try to get off the hook and showed he was aware of what he’d done, saying killing filled him with a sense of empowerment and sadness.
“The video was gut-wrenching, just gut-wrenching,” Fisher said.
He said Chang allowed him to keep family members informed of the case’s progress, but that was all.
Chang’s sister, Leah Chang of Bakersfield, Calif., said that a month before he deserted, Chang posted online “the worst news of my life,” the death of a Marine buddy.
She said 24-year-old Casey Lee Byams had roomed with Chang and his wife, and the two Marines had matching “Semper Fi” tattoos on the inside of their left wrists. Lukah Chang described Byams as like a big brother who kept him out of trouble, Leah Chang said.
She said the she and her brother grew up in North Carolina on a farm. Their father was Hmong, from Laos, and the pastor at a Baptist church. The family went to Thailand in 2006 for a year to set up a church in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand.
She said her brother was reserved, smart and an avid reader as a youngster. She said he was expelled from a Christian school as a senior and soon joined the Marines, and he changed after he went into the military, partying and drinking.
She said she last saw her brother at Thanksgiving in 2011, and he called his family the next July.
“I think I tried to talk to him about his friend who had died,” she recalled, “and if anything was going in his life . anything he was planning. ‘No, not really,’ he said.”
She said he is not the type for small talk so the conversation was brief, and they haven’t spoken since.