The family of a murder victim sat next to the family of their son’s killer, separated only by one Vietnamese translator in the first row of the Fairfax County Circuit courtroom.
“I was struck by the testimony of both sets of parents,” said Judge Jane Marum Roush on Friday, June 9.
Henh Chu Ngo, then 19, murdered Ngoc Quy Doan Nguyen, 21, outside the Happi Billiards & Café on Little River Turnpike in Annandale on Dec. 27, 2002.
After convicting him of first-degree murder, a jury recommended that Ngo, now 22, serve 23 years for the murder and the mandatory three years for use of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Roush formally sentenced Ngo Friday to 26 years in prison.
“A terrible tragedy, a terrible waste,” Roush said.
JURIES DON’T always hear all the facts.
The jury, which could have sentenced Ngo to life in prison for first-degree murder, didn’t know Ngo fled to Canada after the murder, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Murphy. Ngo, 19 at the time of the murder, was arrested by Immigration Task Force officers in West Toronto 26 months later.
“The jury sentence is measured and moderate considering the cruelty [of the crime],” Murphy said.
Nguyen played pool with two friends at Happi Billiards & Café for nearly two hours before leaving to get something to eat on Dec. 27, 2002.
As they were leaving, Nguyen and his friends were approached by a group of members of the Asian Dragon Family street gang, who wanted to know if they were part of the rival gang Asian Young and Dangerous (AYD).
Ngo, who had been jumped by members of AYD at Springfield Mall a week before the murder, shot Nguyen in the head. He fired two more shots at Nguyen’s friends who were sitting in his white Honda Prelude.
When police arrived, Nguyen was unconscious and unresponsive, illuminated by the headlights of his car that was still running.
“Four years ago, I cried so much when my son passed away. Today, I am crying again because you, members of the jury, helped me find justice,” Nguyen’s father said at the trial in March.
Roush said the Nguyen’s family wrote letters to the court, asking that Ngo serve life in prison.
Roush said the sentence recommended by the jury fell well below the sentencing guidelines, in part because of the “excellent representation” from defense attorneys Peter D. Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro.
A Virginia judge can reduce a sentence, but can’t increase the sentence a jury recommends.
Judge Roush asked prosecutor Murphy and the translator to make sure the victim’s family knew that she couldn’t sentence Ngo to life in prison.