- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006


A Fairfax County judge has spared the life of a man who killed a woman and her 22-month-old daughter, instead sentencing him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Dinh Pham, 34, had pleaded guilty to strangling Loan P. Nguyen, 30, and Ashley N. Ton.

He had entered the home of his former employer, a building contractor, on Jan. 7, 2004, to steal $1,000 for his gambling habit. He hid in a closet after discovering Mrs. Nguyen was home.

After she left the shower, he strangled her and the child and hid their bodies in a crawl space in their Merrifield home.

“Your crimes in this case were simply unspeakable. They were reprehensible, and they were heinous,” Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Leslie M. Alden said. “But there is nothing that the court can do to bring back the lives of those innocent, innocent victims.”

On Monday, Judge Alden sentenced Pham to life in prison without parole for Ashley’s slaying, adding another life sentence for the killing of the child’s mother and 40 years for grand larceny and burglary charges.

Judge Alden earlier ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty because Pham was not told of his right to consult his embassy.

The Virginia Supreme Court disagreed, so Pham again faced death after pleading guilty to murder and grand larceny.

In court, Pham’s attorney argued that his client should not be put to death for the slayings because, as a child, he had been traumatized by violence and deprivation during the Vietnam War.

In Vietnam, Pham witnessed the deaths of neighbors and a relative near the Cambodian border. Pham’s father, a soldier, was held in a communist prison camp while the family starved in a village.

The defense attorney said Pham never fully recovered and was mentally impaired, which could explain the slayings.

“This man, with his limited ability, made a wrong choice and did something bad,” assistant capital defender Paul A. Maslakowski said. “He didn’t set out to do it with evil in his heart.”

Psychologist William Stejskal testified that Pham likely had borderline autism or perhaps Asperger syndrome, a developmental disability.

But Stanton Samenow, an Alexandria psychologist called by the prosecution, said Pham did not express remorse during several interviews.

“Stress does not equal post-traumatic stress disorder,” Mr. Samenow said. “Certainly, every person that grew up in Vietnam did not end up killing two people.”

Mrs. Nguyen’s husband, Huy Hoang Ton, said the Vietnam War had been just as difficult for his family and the experience was no excuse for killing.

“My life was torn apart,” Mr. Ton said, as he described finding the bodies of his wife and child.

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