The father and mother of convicted murderer Giao Ly sat in a Spokane courtroom Wednesday, having just spent most of the family’s money flying from the East Coast.
Their oldest son, 22-year-old Giao Ly, was about to be sentenced for two counts of first-degree murder. Their nightmare was seeing him spend the rest of his life in prison for the robbery-slayings of a Vietnamese couple in 1995.
They came for one reason: asking the court for mercy for “a good, obedient son” who got involved in gang violence and murder.
Kneeling in court, the defendant’s father, Quynh Ly, made an impassioned plea for leniency. “I know my son has done wrong,” he told Superior Court Judge Paul Bastine.
“You are my lord,” the father continued. “Please forgive my son.”
Ten minutes later, the elder Ly, his wife Kimba and their two other children sat in silence as Bastine sentenced Giao Ly to 42 years in prison, the minimum allowed by sentencing guidelines.
Sobbing into handkerchiefs, they watched Giao Ly place fingerprints on court papers that, for them, amounted to a life sentence.
“For practical purposes, he believes his life is over,” said Ly’s attorney, Kim Roberts. “He’s convinced that the Asian gang he belonged to will find him and kill him.”
Last fall, Ly pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder, admitting he had helped another Asian man break into the Spokane home of Johnny Hagan, 26, and Hong Nga Thi Pham, 23.
Ly said he’d been forced by an Asian gang accomplice to participate in the crime out of fear for his family’s safety.
The man police say actually pulled the trigger, Run Peter Chhoun, is considered a leader of the Tiny Rascals, a violent Southern California gang.
Once inside, Chhoun attacked the couple, demanded to know where their money and jewels were, Ly told police. Desperate to find money, Chhoun at one point threatened to kill their children, a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.
Police said Ly helped Chhoun tie the victims’ arms and legs with phone cord and ransack the home. Ly said Chhoun finally shot both in the head with a handgun. Just before he was sentenced Wednesday, Ly rose to his feet and said: “I have had nightmares about this ever since. I am sorry for the victims and for myself, but I did it to save my family.”
Chhoun is in custody in Los Angeles on three separate murder charges. Because of the lengthy court cases facing Chhoun, he may never face trial in Spokane for the 1995 murders, according to Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay.
Roberts said Ly, who had no prior felony record, was an obedient son who got sucked into gang activity after his family moved from Vietnam to America.
Trying to free himself from the Tiny Rascals, Ly moved to Eastern Washington in 1994. He became a woodworker and his only run-ins with the law were traffic tickets, the defense attorney said.
On a trip to California in 1995, Ly ran into Chhoun, who insisted Ly owed him favors for leaving California without the approval of his gang associates.
Ly said Chhoun ordered him to drive them to Spokane, where Chhoun announced he wanted to arrange a “home invasion,” a form of robbery Asian gangs often commit against other Asians.
Police say Ly apparently only held a knife during the attack and superficially cut both victims, trying to coerce their cooperation.
After the killings, Chhoun took the couple’s jewelry and divided $4,000 in stolen cash with Ly.
Ly was later arrested in Connecticut with his family several months later. His photo was identified by the dead couple’s son as one of the two men who attacked his parents.
Ly agreed to a plea bargain instead of facing trial on aggravated murder charges and a possible death sentence.
By the time of sentencing, Ly’s parents hoped that Bastine would order an exceptional sentence, allowing Ly to serve time for both murders concurrently instead of one after the other.
The law only allows that option under special circumstances, which Bastine said did not exist in a crime this serious and violent.
On top of Ly’s 40-year minimum sentence, he added two more years because the crimes involved a deadly weapon.
“Ultimately, we must all be responsible for our own actions,” Bastine said.
Admitting that Ly’s family “were victims of this tragedy, too,” Bastine said that the acts of Chhoun and Ly left two children bereft of parents.
“For the other victims in this crime, this is an appropriate sentence.”
None of the family members of the victims was present for the sentencing. The dead couple’s two children, now 6 and 4, live with grandparents in the Tri-Cities.
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