Friday, March 14, 2014
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man is again facing execution for throwing four children off a bridge to their deaths.
Last year, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Lam Luong's capital murder convictions for the children's 2008 deaths, saying pretrial publicity was prejudicial and that the trial court erred in denying defense attorneys funds to travel to Vietnam.
The Alabama Supreme Court ruled 5-3 Friday that the lower court decision was wrong. Defense attorney Cassandra Stubbs said she will probably ask the court to reconsider.
"No meaningful steps were taken to make sure he got a fair trial," she said.
State Attorney General Luther Strange praised the court's ruling.
"We have maintained that Luong received a fair trial, and we are thankful that the court heard our arguments and has ordered that his conviction and sentence will stand," he said.
Luong, a Vietnamese immigrant, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2009 for driving the four children to the Dauphin Island Bridge in Mobile County on Jan. 7, 2008, and throwing the four children into the Mississippi Sound about 100 feet below.
Three of the four children were Luong's, while the other was his wife's from a previous relationship who had been treated by Luong like his own child, according to testimony during his murder trial.
The bodies of the four — Ryan Phan, 3, Hannah Luong, 2, Lindsey Luong, 1, and Danny Luong, 4 months — were later recovered along the coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Hannah's body was found 144 miles from the bridge.
Their mother, Kieu Phan, testified that the couple's relationship had soured and that her unemployed husband had been using crack and seeing a girlfriend.
The Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction a year ago, ruling that pretrial publicity in Mobile was presumptively prejudicial and that the trial court erred in denying defense attorneys funds to travel to Vietnam. That could have led to a new trial in a new location if the decision had been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Lyn Stuart said, "A review of the record simply does not support a finding that the content of the media coverage incited anger, revulsion and indignation to the degree that jurors chosen from citizens of Mobile County could not determine Luong's guilt or innocence based solely on the evidence presented at trial."
She also wrote that Luong's attorneys did not provide specific information concerning Luong's childhood that would indicate a state-paid trip to Vietnam would yield important evidence.
In dissent, Justice Tom Parker said, "The media coverage in this case was extensive and sensational."
In another dissent, Justice Glen Murdock remarked, "It is hard to imagine a case involving more extensive and more prejudicial publicity or a case that would more readily warrant a conclusion of presumed prejudice."
Joining Parker and Murdock in dissent was Justice Jim Main.
Stubbs, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, said, "We think the dissents got it right."
Attorney General Strange, whose staff handled the prosecution's appeal of the lower court's decision, said, "Lam Luong threw his four young children off a bridge to their deaths, and then laughed when he told their mother. This monstrous act rightfully resulted in his capital murder conviction and a sentence of death."
Joining Stuart in the majority were Chief Justice Roy Moore and Justices Mike Bolin, Greg Shaw and Tommy Bryan.
Justice Kelli Wise did not participate because she was a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals when it considered the case.