MOBILE, Ala. - A judge upheld a jury's recommendation and sentenced Lam Luong to death by lethal injection for murdering his four children by throwing them off the Dauphin Island Bridge. Before the sentencing Luong turned to his wife Kieu and said he was sorry.
It was the first time we have seen any emotion from Luong for what he did. Judge Charles Graddick said there is only one penalty for a crime this heinous and cruel. Graddick said the final moments of the four children's lives were sheer terror, filled with extreme fear and pain.
Especially for three-year-old Ryan who the state believes knew what was going on around him.
Lam Luong stood before Judge Charles Graddick, to learn his fate. It's been more than a month since a jury found him guilty of killing his four children and recommended the death penalty.
On Thursday, Judge Graddick upheld that recommendation, but he took it a step further. During sentencing he ordered that Luong must be shown pictures of his children every day for the rest of his life.
"Make him think a little bit, suffer a little bit. Right now, I'm sure he's got lots of friends waiting on him over at Atmore," said Kam Phengsisboum, the children's uncle.
District Attorney John Tyson, Jr. said this is the ultimate case of domestic violence. The state proved Luong threw his children one by one off the bridge to get back at his wife.
Tyson was surprised by the Judge's orders to show Luong pictures of the children, those pictures include ones taken before and after the murder. For four-month-old Danny, those are his only pictures.
"I had not anticipated that, but the court was so moved by the facts of this case and those pictures are now the law in this case," said Tyson.
Immediately following sentencing, Luong was taken away by the Department of Corrections, and taken to Holman Prison in Atmore.
On the day her husband was sentenced to die for killing their children, in what the court calls one of the most heinous crimes ever, the young mother visited the graves of her children.
Judge Graddick also ordered Luong to pay $50 million in restitution, that would assure that if he sold his story, he wouldn't see a penny of it. It would all go to his wife, Kieu Phan.
One juror who wanted to see if Judge Graddick upheld their recommendation was in court Thursday. She was happy to put his case behind her, but will never forget the children, or their mother Kieu.
Tragedy in the Bayou
Here's a timeline of when search and rescue crews first started looking for the four small children:
Tuesday night, January 8, 2008, investigators announce an all out search of the waters off Dauphin Island.
This, after authorities say 37-year-old Lam Luong confessed to throwing his children 100 feet into the water under the Dauphin Island Bridge. That was enough to charge Luong with four counts of capital murder.
Searches continued for days without any rescue or recovery. That is, until the morning of Saturday, January 12.
"The inevitable nightmare that we all feared has now been confirmed," said Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran.
A duck hunter found the remains of four-month-old Danny Luong in a marsh near Port Aux Pin.
Danny wouldn't be the only discovery that weekend. His brother, three-year-old Ryan Phan, was found the next day, just three miles to the west in Bayou la Fouche Bay.
Over the next few days temperatures plummeted, although the morale among the searchers remained high.
It wasn't until Tuesday, January 15, more than a week since the children had been killed, when officers from Mississippi Marine Resources found the body of one-year-old Lindsey Luong near Pascagoula. At first forensic scientists weren't able to identify if the child was Lindsey or her sister, two-year-old Hannah Luong, because they're so close in age.
But through DNA testing and other comparisons the family learned that little Hannah was the only baby still missing.
Sunday, January 20, word broke around 4:00 p.m. that authorities thought their search was over. They were right. Remains believed to be Hannah were found floating near Venice, Louisiana, one-hundred of miles from where her sister and brothers were found.
Luong had initially pled not guilty. But before his trial started, he reversed it to guilty, and asked for the death penalty. The very next day, he reversed it for the final time, pleading not guilty.
During Luong's trial, which started in March 16, 2009, several witnesses involved in the search and rescue testified. The duck hunter said he thought he was in shock when he saw baby Danny's body.
Video of Hannah's little body floating face down of the coast of Venice, Louisiana was also shown. A commercial shrimper spotted her body while filming the stormy conditions at sea, because he wanted the jury to see the conditions they were searching in.
Karen Kelly, the state senior medical examiner at the time of this tragedy, testified that all four children were still alive when they hit the water. She said she was able to tell they died from blunt force trauma and drowning. That is, all except 2 Hannah. Her body was too far decomposed to tell if there was any blunt force trauma. Kelly said she was able to identify Hannah because her toe nails were painted.
All of the children also had what the medical examiner described as washer-woman changes, meaning their skin had begun to prune because of the time they spent in the water. Images of their tiny hands and feet were flashed on large screens to show the changes.
After the state rested it's case, Judge Charles Graddick asked Lam Luong if he wanted to take the stand. When he said he did not, the judge then asked if the defense had any witnesses. They did not.
On Thursday, March 19, the state made their closing argument, saying, "Sometimes there is just evil and that's what we have in this case."
It went on to say that Luong's children trusted him, and he betrayed that trust.
The defense said what happened was so out of character, that the only reason to explain why a father could allegedly do this was intoxication. The defense is asking the jury to support a manslaughter charge, not capital murder.
The jury then went to deliberate. They only deliberated 45 minutes before they delivered their guilty verdict. He was found guilty for all five counts of capital murder; one for each child, and another for all of them collectively.
The same jury recommended the death penalty for Luong.
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