Appeals court overturns Lam Luong’s conviction, death sentence in Dauphin Island bridge deaths
on February 16, 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 wife’s from a previous relationship.
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.