Retrying Lam Luong trial could cost up to $100,000, Mobile County prosecutor estimates
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich this afternoon criticized that decision and vowed to retry Luong, if necessary.
“We will fight with all that we have to keep this man behind bars,” Rich said at a news conference at Government Plaza.
She estimated it would cost up to $100,000 if the state had to try the case in another city. But she said cost would not be a consideration, naming each of the children individually.
“We will be ready to do this again,” said Rich, who received news of the appeal while she was on vacation.
The deaths of the four children – Ryan Phan, 3; Hannah Luong, 2; Lindsey Luong, 1; and Danny Luong; 4 months – attracted international news coverage. Nowhere did the media spotlight shine more brightly than in Mobile, where dozens of newspaper articles and hundreds of broadcast stories chronicled every development.
The appeals court ruled that by the time the case went to trial in March of the following year, the region had been so saturated with details of the case that Luong could not get a fair trial in Mobile. The judges, who voted 4-0 in favor of overturning the conviction, found fault with the way Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Graddick handled jury selection. The judges ruled that he should have allowed more extensive one-on-one questioning of the jurors.
Art Powell, one of the lawyers appointed to represent Luong at trial, said he would be willing to do so again, if asked.
“As I read this decision, it is the opinion of the appeals court that this is one of those rare cases where the extent and nature of the pretrial publicity made it impossible to select a fair and impartial jury in Mobile County,” he said. “Every person, including Lam Luong, is entitled to a fair and impartial jury.”
The Alabama Attorney General’s Office indicated earlier today that it will ask the state Supreme Court to reverse the lower court ruling. As an indication of just how visible the case is, Attorney General Luther Strange called Rich in the middle of her news conference.
“After reviewing the Court of Criminal Appeals decision over the weekend, I have determined that my Office will appeal the decision,” Strange said in a prepared statement. “This is one of the worst murders in Alabama history, and Mr. Luong deserves to be punished for his crimes.”
Rich said prosecutors worked diligently to bring a “speedy end” to the case 14 months after the crimes occurred. She noted that last week’s appeals court decision came long after the 2009 trial.
“I have serious concerns that it took three years for the appeals court to make this decision,” she said. “We were very shocked when this decision came down.”
Rich said her office would review how the ruling might impact pending capital cases, but she noted that each one is distinct.
The district attorney said she has every confidence a jury in any part of the state would reach the same conclusion, particularly since the appeals court upheld the validity of Luong’s confession.
She challenged other aspects the court’s ruling. The judges, for instance, determined that Graddick used a Vietnamese language interpreter who was not registered with the state court system. Rich said no one during the trial objected to the interpreter’s performance.
The appeals court also ruled that Graddick should not have allowed the jury to see a videotape of a Bayou La Batre police investigator dropping sand bags from the bridge to re-enact the children’s fall. The court ruled that the evidence was improper because the investigator was not an expert witness
Rich said the demonstration came during the trial’s penalty phase, when jurors were trying to decide whether to recommend the death penalty. She said the rules of evidence generally are less strict during this phase. She said she would fight to include a similar demonstration at a retrial, if necessary.
“We will hire an expert this time and we will do it again,” she said