Thursday, August 23, 2001
Ninth Circuit Rejects En Banc Review of Conviction in Firebomb Death
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals won’t review en banc a decision upholding the conviction and life sentence imposed on a Vietnamese immigrant who arranged the firebombing of his former best friend’s home and killed the man’s niece, the court said yesterday.
The court announced in a brief order that no active judge had voted to grant further review of Tanh Huu Lam’s claims that his right to speedy trial had been violated and that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense.
A three-judge panel comprised of Senior Judge Betty B. Fletcher and Judges Ronald Gould and Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain rejected those contentions in June.
Lam admitted arranging the attack on Trung Pham’s Carmichael home, saying he acted in a jealous rage after learning Pham was dating Lam’s former wife. Having one’s wife leave him for another man is a disgrace in his culture, Lam—who was apprehended as he waited to board a flight to Vietnam—said.
Lam, whose trial for arson resulting in death ended in a hung jury, agreed to plead guilty—reserving the right to appeal—after an admitted accomplice was captured and agreed to testify against him at a new trial.
Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty based on the additional testimony. The accomplice received a nine-year sentence.
Judge William Shubb of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California imposed a life sentence, the maximum permitted by the plea bargain. Shubb described Lam as a man with “no conscience” who deserved the life term for orchestrating the firebombing that killed Hien Tran just before her 10th birthday and injured three of her relatives.
He told Shubb at sentencing that he hired the men who burned the house down but didn’t intend to kill anyone.
On appeal, he argued that the long delays in his case, 14 months from arrest to the beginning of trial and nearly a year from the end of the trial to the entry of his plea, violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment and the Speedy Trial Act.
The delays were somewhat excessive, Fletcher said. But they don’t justify setting aside the plea, she said, since the case was complex, much of the delay was attributable to defense counsel, and Lam made no showing of undue prejudice.
Fletcher also rejected Lam’s claim that prosecutors presented knowingly false testimony from police officers who claimed that Lam told them that gasoline cans found in his residence had been purchased two years earlier. Prosecutors presented evidence the cans had been manufactured the year before they were seized, and argued that Lam was lying.
The discrepancy appeared to result from an “an honest disagreement,” enhanced by an ambiguity in translation, rather than prosecutorial misconduct, the judge said.
The case is United States v. Lam, 99-10463.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company