MOBILE, Ala. - "I am pleading guilty for what I have done. That was the matter of killing my four children." Those were the words of Lam Luong, as read by an interpreter at a court hearing Thursday.
That admission comes more than a year after Luong threw his four children off the top of the Dauphin Island Bridge near Bayou La Batre in southern Alabama. Search crews combed the Gulf waters for more than two weeks before the bodies of all the children were found. One child's body had drifted more than 100 miles to the Louisiana coast where it was found by a fisherman.
Thursday's hearing was supposed to be about a possible change of venue, but that quickly changed when Luong handed his attorney a letter stating his guilt.
"We did not anticipate he was going to do that," said Mobile County District Attorney, John Tyson, Jr. "As you know we were preparing for trial beginning on Monday."
Luong's interpreter, Tam Vo, says he read the letter for the first time in court, but Luong was more than adamant about entering a guilty plea.
"The attorney had asked him many ways, but he still had not changed his mind," Vo said.
Despite Luong's plea, Mobile County District Attorney, John Tyson, Jr. says the trial is still on schedule because it is a capital murder case.
"No, we still have to prove he's guilty," said Tyson. "That's the purpose of the trial. The upshot of this is we now have one more piece of evidence, and that's his plea of guilty."
As for Luong, in addition to the admiting his guilt, he's asking for the death penalty. What's interesting is that he didn't just enter a guilty plea, he also asked his lawyers not to ask any questions or try to defend him during the trial.
Jury selection begins Monday. Prosecutors are pushing for the death penalty. The trial was originally expected to take five weeks, now it could take just one.
A community outraged
The name Lam Luong evokes anger for many along the Gulf Coast. Some say his name is synonymous with monster. In January of 2008, he went to the Dauphin Island Police to report his four children missing. Within hours police say he admitted throwing his chidren nearly 85 feet off the top of the Dauphin Island Bridge.
Law enforcement and emergency crews hit the water in vain, hoping by some miracle Luong had lied and the chidren were still alive somewhere. But that hope was gone 5 days later on January 12, 2008. That's when the body of four-month-old Danny was found about a mile from the bridge. Investigators said he died of blunt force trauma and drowning.
One day later, January 13, 2008, the body of 3-year-old Ryan is found about three miles away. Two days later, the body of one one-year-old Lindsey was found near the Alabama/Mississippi state line. And finally 20 days after they disappeared, the body of two-year-old Hannah was found in Venice, Louisiana. That's about 100 miles from the Dauphin Island Bridge.
Throughout the search, volunteers walked the shorelines and used their own boats searching for the children. They, along with law enforcement officers, shed tears and expressed anger at the man who could so callously throw the children away.
At Luong's first court appearance, he arrived in a bullet proof vest. Many were concerned someone would take the law into their own hands. Luong claimed he had actually given the children to a woman named Kim. He was charged with 5 counts of capital murder and denied bond. Loung still remains in jail today.
The children's mother, Kieu Phan, is still trying to cope with the loss of her children. She is surrounded by family and friends who say the past year has been painful and slow. Each holiday and birthday is another painful memory that her children will never grow up.
Today life along the Alabama Gulf Coast is back to normal, but when people drive across the Dauphin Island Bridge, they can't help remembering the lives lost... the tragedy in the bayou.
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