Death for Ala. man who tossed 4 kids from bridge
MOBILE, Ala. — A judge on Thursday ordered a death sentence for a coastal Alabama man who was convicted of murdering four young children by tossing them from a bridge to “torture” his wife.
Mobile County Circuit Judge Charles Graddick also ordered that prison officials show Lam Luong (lahm loo-AWNG’) photos of the children each day he spends on death row awaiting lethal injection.
In handing down the sentence, Graddick rejected a defense bid for the optional penalty — life in prison without parole. An appeal of the death sentence is automatic and could last years.
The 38-year-old jobless shrimper was convicted of capital murder in March for killing the children on Jan. 7, 2008 in a dispute with his wife, Kieu Phan, who was 23 at the time. Jurors last month earlier voted 12-0 for the death penalty.
Luong, a Vietnamese refugee who came to the U.S. when he was 13, was convicted of dropping the children — Ryan Phan, 3; Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and 4-month-old Danny Luong — from the top of an 80-foot-high span to Dauphin Island. The bodies were recovered from coastal waters.
Luong was the father of three of the children. His wife was pregnant with Ryan, the child of another man, when they met in 2004, according to testimony.
“Ryan was very bright, very protective of his siblings,” Assistant District Attorney Jo Beth Murphree told the judge. She said Ryan must have been aware of the “awful circumstances” when Luong drove the family van to the top of the bridge.
Asked if he had any final comment before sentencing, a bearded Luong looked at his wife, and, in a cracked voice, said, “I apologize to my wife,” a court translator quoted him saying. Phan, seated between her sister and mother, wiped away tears.
Defense attorney Greg Hughes claimed Luong, who had no history of violence, suffered from long-term crack cocaine use and was depressed about his life situation.
“He snapped,” Hughes told the judge, hoping for a sentence of life without parole.
But Murphree said Luong’s drug use was voluntary. She said he was raised by his grandparents in Vietnam and had many opportunities.
The judge pointed to testimony that showed Luong was competent at the time of the murders. Luong concocted a kidnapping story as a cover-up and finally gave police a confession. Graddick said Luong — the son of an American black soldier and a Vietnamese mother — killed the children to “torture” his wife and couldn’t blame his actions on his upbringing or ethnic background.
The judge said the children must have experienced “sheer unmitigated terror” during the fall into the Mississippi Sound. He said it appears the 4-month-old was tossed first. A passing motorist told police he thought Luong had tossed a bag of garbage from the bridge, according to trial testimony.
A duck hunter later found the infant’s body near a marsh near Bayou La Batre. Bodies of the other three also were recovered, the last off the Louisiana coast.
The judge also ordered that any proceeds from the sale of books, movies or TV deals resulting from this “vile criminal act” must be turned over to the court for distribution to the children’s mother, setting Luong’s restitution at $50 million for such an occurrence.
District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said he hopes the family finds “some peace.”
Luong’s attorneys had no comment.