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Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Vietnamese refugee - Threw his four children off the Dauphin Island Bridge
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: January 7, 2008
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1970
Victims profile: His four children, Ryan Phan, 3; Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and Danny Luong; 4 months
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Mobile County, Alabama, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 29, 2009. Conviction and sentence overturned on February 16, 2013

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Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals


Lam Luong v. State of Alabama (3.9 Mb)


Lam Luong was sentenced to death in Alabama on April 29, 2009 for throwing his four children from the Dauphin Island Bridge on January 7, 2008.


Appeals court overturns Lam Luong's conviction, death sentence in Dauphin Island bridge deaths

By Brendan Kirby -

February 17, 2013

A state appeals court Friday overturned the conviction and death sentence of a man found guilty of throwing his four young children off of the Dauphin Island bridge in 2008.

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on 4-0 vote, with Judge Mary Windom recusing herself, sent the murder case against Lam Luong back to Mobile County Circuit Court. The appellate court ruled that Mobile County Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick erred in turning down a defense request to move the trial to another county because of extensive pretrial publicity.

“Based on the record before us, it is clear that publicity surrounding the murders completely saturated the Mobile community in 2008. A great deal of that publicity was prejudicial,” the opinion states. “The coverage consisted of Luong’s prior criminal history, Luong’s confession, Luong’s desire to plead guilty, Luong’s decision to withdraw his guilty plea, the community’s outrage over the death of the four children, and what the community believed should be Luong’s punishment.”

Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich was out of town Friday and could not be reached; her office had no immediate comment.

It is unclear whether the Alabama Attorney General’s Office will challenge the ruling, but it has the right to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The deaths of Ryan Phan, 3; Hannah Luon, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and Danny Luong, 4 months; on Jan. 7, 2008, shocked southwest Alabama like few crimes in recent history. According to testimony, Lam Luong drove to the bridge and threw the children one by one into the Mississippi Sound 100 feet below.

Luong was the father of three of the children; the oldest was his common-law wife’s from a previous relationship.

Luong pleaded guilty but then withdrew it and went to trial. A jury convicted him in March 2009 of capital murder; Graddick followed the jury’s recommendation and sentenced him to death.

The appeals court ruled that Graddick should have relocated the trial. The 90-page opinion cites a long list of newspaper stories from 2008 and 2009, and also notes that hundreds of stories aired on local television broadcasts.

Only 15 of the 156 potential jurors indicated that they had not heard about the case. A poll commissioned by the defense showed that 84 percent of Mobile County residents had heard about the case, including 71 percent who were familiar with the defenant’s decision to plead guilty. The poll also suggested that 71 percent of those questioned thought he was guilty.

“At the time of Luong’s trial, the case was still of great interest to the public,” the opinion states.

The opinion also faulted several other rulings that Graddick made during the trial, including:

  • His decision to deny the defense funds to travel to Luong’s native Vietnam to investigate his childhood.

  • His decision to allow jurors to see a videotape of then-Bayou La Batre Police Capt. Darryl Wilson throwing four sandbags off of the bridge because an appropriate expert did not testify about the formula that the investigator used to calculate the rate of speed.

  • His failure to appoint Vietnamese-language interpreter who was registered with the state Administrative Office of Courts. Luong’s attorneys argued that the interpreter’s translations were inadequate.


Death for Ala. man who tossed 4 kids from bridge

April 30, 2009

A judge ordered a death sentence Thursday for a jobless shrimper convicted of murdering four young children by tossing them from an 80-foot-high bridge on the Alabama coast.

Circuit Judge Charles Graddick handed down the death sentence to Lam Luong (lahm loo-AWNG') and said he would order prison officials to show Luong photographs of the four children each day he is on death row.

Luong, 38, was convicted in March of killing the children on Jan. 7, 2008. A Vietnamese refugee, he was accused of dropping the four from atop the Dauphin Island Bridge after an argument with their mother, Kieu Phan, 23.

Luong, who was Phan's common-law husband, fathered three of the victims - Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and Danny Luong, 4 months. Ryan Phan, 3, was Phan's child with another man.

At his sentencing, Luong looked toward his wife and, through an interpreter, apologized.

His attorneys urged Judge Graddick to sentence Luong to life in prison without parole, the only alternative to the death sentence under his capital murder conviction. They said he was addicted to drugs and depressed.

But Graddick said the aggravating circumstances were too great. He said the children, during their fall from the bridge, must have felt "sheer terror" and were alive when they hit the water.

The jury that convicted Luong last month also recommended the death sentence.

An appeal is automatic under Alabama's death penalty law.

Luong, who once entered a guilty plea but later retracted it, did not testify at his trial or during a later sentencing phase.

During the trial, the children's mother testified that Luong had a girlfriend, abused drugs and didn't find a job when the family returned to the Bayou La Batre area. They had temporarily relocated to Georgia after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in 2005.


Jury convicts man of tossing kids off Ala. bridge

Mom testifies that husband laughed after four children disappeared

March 19, 2009

A jury on Thursday convicted a 38-year-old man of murdering four children tossed from an Alabama bridge in 2008.

The jury deliberated for only about 40 minutes in Mobile on Thursday before convicting Lam Luong of murder. The defendant, who came to the United States from Vietnam as a teenager, declined an opportunity to address the court and presented no defense witnesses at trial.

Prosecutors said Luong, a part-time shrimp boat worker, drove the family van to the top of Alabama's two-lane Dauphin Island bridge and tossed the children into the Mississippi Sound, some 80 feet below.

The Vietnamese immigrant mother had testified earlier that Luong, her common-law husband, just laughed when he told her that the children — then reported missing — would never be found.

"He kept laughing," Kieu Phan, 23, told jurors on Monday.

Officials said most of the children suffered injuries to the head or neck in addition to asphyxia due to drowning. They said only one child died from drowning alone.

Luong's lawyer, Greg Hughes, had asked the jury to return a reduced charge of manslaughter against his client.

Hughes said Luong was on drugs when he threw the children from a Gulf coast bridge in January 2008.

Luong had confessed to investigators in 2008 and later recanted that he had thrown the children — Ryan Phan, 3, Hannah Luong, 2, Lindsey Luong, 1, and Danny Luong, 4 months — off the bridge after an argument with his wife.

Hundreds volunteer to recover kids

The four tiny bodies were recovered from waters off the Gulf coast during a search involving hundreds of volunteers in boats, aircraft and scouring the shoreline on foot.

The mother testified that the couple's relationship soured after they moved from Alabama after Hurricane Katrina demolished Bayou La Batre on Aug. 31, 2005, and relocated to Hinesville, Ga.

Phan said Luong had a girlfriend and began using crack cocaine. She said the family moved back to Mobile County after Luong was fired from a restaurant job. Luong also returned, but couldn't find work, according to testimony.

At a hearing on March 5, Luong pleaded guilty, but he subsequently reversed that decision after learning a trial would be held despite the plea.

Luong came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam at 14. Immigration records indicate that he gained legal permanent residence status as a refugee, but never became a U.S. citizen.


Tears flow at trial for bridge deaths suspect Lam Luong

By Gay McElroy -

March 17, 2009

As Lam Luong's capital murder trial began Monday morning in Mobile County Circuit Court, the state's first witnesses could not hold back their tears for the four children Luong is accused of tossing to their deaths a year ago.

Those witnesses -- Luong's mother-in-law, his sister-in-law and his wife -- each wept throughout their testimony, which was delivered in the plaintive, sing-song cadence of their native Vietnamese as an interpreter followed up in English.

As the women cried out, Luong sat motionless in a white shirt and black pants and wore a pair of earphones to aid in his own interpretation of the trial proceedings before Circuit Judge Charles Graddick.

Assistant District Attorney Jo Beth Murphree told the eight women and eight men of the jury that the state was seeking Luong's conviction and execution.

According to the children's mother, Kieu Phan, and the other women, Luong shared their Bayou La Batre-area home with them and eight children.

At the urging of defense attorneys Art Powell and Greg Hughes, the witnesses acknowledged that prior to that awful Monday in January 2008, the defendant was an affectionate father but perhaps not attentive or a good provider.

They described him as chronically unemployed, addicted to cocaine and with a habit of staying out all night.

He was always asking for money, and they gave it to him, the women said.

He had a lover, they said, although he claimed she was only a friend.

Dung Phan, the defendant's mother-in-law, testified that on the day the children died, Luong got up and placed them in a van and announced he was going for a drive.

On that cold morning, three of the children -- Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1, and Danny Luong, 4 months -- wore neither coats nor shoes, the women told jurors.

They said the oldest boy, Ryan Phan, 3, fathered by another man, was the only child properly dressed when Lam Luong took off with them.

By nightfall, when Luong showed up without the children and told the women that he had left them with someone that none of them knew, panic turned to fear and fear turned to dread, the witnesses said.

"Why did you give the kids to people you don't know?" Tracy Phan, his sister-in-law, said she asked him in near hysterics.

When she said she expressed the opinion to Luong that "crack people will do anything," he looked down and cried.

Luong stuck with his story and even participated in what his wife and her family said they believed was a genuine, door-to-door search for the mysterious woman who had the children.

But once his story broke down, and after his arrest, his wife, Kieu Phan, testified, Luong told her from jail that no one would ever find the children because they were all dead.

"He was laughing," she said.

The bodies of the children were found one by one over a two-week period, after they were tossed off the Dauphin Island bridge.

The last body was found 144 miles south of the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Murphree told jurors Monday.


Lam Luong pleads guilty to murder of children by throwing them off Dauphin Island bridge

By K.A. Turner -

March 6, 2009

Lam Luong pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon in Mobile to capital murder and asked to be put to death, acknowledging in a letter the horrific killings of his four young children thrown from the Dauphin Island bridge last year.

"I am no longer want to live. But I don't know how to die," the Vietnamese-born Luong scrawled.

The unexpected guilty plea came as prosecutors and defense lawyers gathered in Presiding Mobile County Circuit Judge Charles Graddick's courtroom to make final preparations for Luong's trial, set to open next week.

One of Luong's lawyers, Greg Hughes, said he and co-counsel Art Powell had no inkling what their client was about to do. District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said his team was as blind-sided as the defense.

Graddick questioned Luong, 38, at length to make sure that Luong understood his request and its consequences. Luong and the judge exchanged remarks through an interpreter.

Graddick cautioned Luong that his lawyers did not believe a guilty plea was in his best interest.

"All the medical indications are that you understand what you're doing and that you have no mental defects," Graddick told Luong.

In the end, Graddick accepted Luong's guilty plea, though Alabama law requires that capital cases still be played out in court, and jury selection should begin next week. Luong's guilty plea will be part of the evidence.

Thursday's hearing at Mobile Government Plaza originally was called to discuss a defense request to move the trial out of the area and Graddick's decision to sequester the jury. Those issues were rendered moot by Luong's guilty plea, Graddick said.

If jurors acknowledge Luong's guilt, they still have the option of recommending life in prison without parole, despite his death request.

Luong is accused of throwing his children from the bridge on the morning of Jan. 7, 2008.

Bayou La Batre police reported that he confessed to the killings as an act of revenge against the children's mother, Kieu Phan.

The bodies of Ryan Phan, 3; Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and Danny Luong, 4 months, were found one by one during a two-week search along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Luong moved to the United States when he was 13 or 14, but during his early years in Southeast Asia he was shunned and ridiculed for being the son of a black American GI father and a Vietnamese mother, his defense attorneys have said.

Family members have described Luong as a hardworking father who descended into crack cocaine abuse in the months leading up to the slayings, often disappearing for days.

The children's deaths drew nationwide media attention as rescue crews spent days combing miles of coastal lands.

About 600 people attended a memorial service for the children in Bayou La Batre, where they were later buried at Oddfellows Cemetery. Cards, gifts and handmade memorials sent from across the nation filled the Bayou La Batre Community Center.

The Rev. Phi Vo, who has counseled the children's mother, said Thursday that the family didn't want to comment immediately on the case.

"They would like to stay out of the media to let the law enforcement and the judicial system do their work," Vo said.


Tragedy in the Bayou Timeline

By April Douglas -

March 5, 2009

MOBILE COUNTY, Ala. - January 7, 2008 - Police believe on that morning Lam Luong threw his four children off the Dauphin Island Bridge.

January 8, 2008 - Lam Luong filed a missing persons report for his four children. In that report, Luong said he last saw the children on Shell Belt Road in Bayou La Batre on January 7th.

Bayou la Batre police said Luong later confessed to throwing the children off the Dauphin Island Bridge. A massive search was launched to look for the children.

January 10, 2008 - Lam Luong makes his first court appearance to face four counts of capital murder. Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Charles McKnight denied bond. Joseph Kulahowski, Luong's defense attorney at the time, released an audio tape recording to FOX10 News, in which Luong claims the children are still alive. On the tape, Luong said someone named Kim had the babies.

January 12, 20087 - The body of four-month-old Danny is found in Port Aux Pines, about one mile from the bridge. His body was found by a duck hunter. Investigators said he died of blunt force trauma and drowning.

January 13, 2008 - The body of 3-year-old Ryan is found in Bayou La Fourche. That's about three miles west of the body of four-month-old Danny. Volunteers searching on land found Ryan's body near a shoreline.

January 15, 2008 - The body of one-year-old Lindsey is found near Jose Bay just west of the Alabama/Mississippi state line. That same day Luong is granted in court a Vietnamese translator to help him understand legal terms.

January 20, 2008 - The body of two-year-old Hannah is found in Venice, Louisiana. That's about 100 miles from the Dauphin Island Bridge.

January 26, 2008 - A public funeral is held for all four children at the Bayou la Batre Civic Center, followed by a private burial at Odd Fellows Cemetery.

April 1, 2008 - Lam Luong pleads not guilty to five counts of capital murder. One count of capital murder for each of his children and one for them as a whole.

August 8, 2008 - Luong's defense lawyers, Greg Hughes and Art Powell, ask Judge Graddick for a change in venue because of pre-trial publicity. The judge allows the defense team to conduct opinion polls, to survey the public's knowledge of the case.

October 15, 2008 - Lam Luong's defense team ask Judge Graddick for permission to go to Vietnam to interview Luong's family, since he is facing the death penalty.

November 13, 2008 - Judge Graddick denies the defense teams request to go to Vietnam.

March 5, 2009 - Lam Luong's defense team is expected to ask for a change of venue based on information it has gathered conducting opinion polls.


Father denies throwing 4 kids off Alabama bridge; bond denied

January 10, 2008

BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. -- A man accused of tossing his four young children off a coastal bridge to their deaths denies killing them and says police harassed him into making a false confession, his attorney said Thursday.

Authorities say Lam Luong confessed to killing the children, ranging in age from a few months to 3 years, a day after reporting them missing and claiming a woman had taken them.

But Luong's appointed attorney, Joe Kulakowski, said his client told him he falsely confessed under pressure after being questioned Monday night and the entire day Tuesday.

"When police yelled, `We know you killed them,' he at some point realized they weren't going to believe him," Kulakowski said.

"We don't have any bodies. There's a lot of emotion and nobody knows the facts right now," he added.

Based in part on a witness's account, investigators said the four children were thrown from the highest part of the two-lane Dauphin Island bridge Monday morning, a point about 80 feet above the Intracoastal Waterway. Luong had had an argument with his wife earlier, authorities said.

Crews searching near the bridge and into the Gulf of Mexico have found no sign of the children. State and local teams were to continue searching Friday, but the Coast Guard announced Thursday that it was pulling out.

"Many factors go into a decision like this and believing that the children are not alive at this time, we must ensure our crews are ready to respond to other search and rescue cases," Coast Guard Capt. Ed Stanton said.

Prosecutors have charged Luong with four counts of capital murder, and he was ordered held without bond Thursday in Mobile.

Kulakowski said Luong told him the children were taken Monday morning by a woman named Kim who claimed to know their mother and would get them food and clothes. He said they were not returned later Monday as promised.

He said officers should be searching for Kim and a second woman who left with the children in a van.

Prosecutors said Luong, 37, gave that account after the children were reported missing Monday but confessed after investigators pressed him on holes in his story.

"We believe he killed the kids by tossing them off the bridge," said District Attorney John Tyson Jr.

Presumed dead were Luong's children Hannah, 2, Lindsey, 1, and Danny, 4 months; and 3-year-old Ryan Phan, who was raised from infancy by Luong but is not his biological child.

Tyson said Luong's wife, 23-year-old Kieu Ngoc Phan, discovered her four children missing Monday and went to police with Luong.

In Bayou La Batre, a fishing village where Luong had worked briefly as a shrimper, many held out hope the children would be found alive but also despaired over the details of their disappearance.

Nguyen Bon, a nun at a Buddhist temple, said she's been in constant prayer for the children since they disappeared. A temple prayer service was planned Thursday night for the family.

"We're hoping the four kids will be found alive," said temple member Devan Phan, who is not related to the children's family. "There's really nothing we can do but sit tight and pray. Hope for a miracle."

In his first court appearance Thursday, Luong was shackled hand and foot and wore a bulletproof vest amid heavy security at the brief bond hearing in Mobile.

In denying bond, District Judge Charles McKnight described the allegations as "heinous."

"I've never seen anything like this before," he said.

Luong, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1984 and until recently had been living in Hinesville, Ga., had a crack cocaine possession charge pending in Hinesville.



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