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Two men sentenced to prison in 2012 throat-slashing murder

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 25, 2014, at 7:18 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, April 26, 2014, at 7:05 a.m.

Two men convicted of murder in the death of a man whose throat was slashed by Asian Boys gang members were sentenced to prison Friday after the victim’s sister tearfully described to two judges how the crime has affected her and her family.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother,” Lisa Xiong-DuBose told the judge at the first sentencing. “He was my big brother. He taught me how speak English. How to ride a bike. How to catch a ball.”

She said it wasn’t easy hearing her brother’s death described in court.

“Having to relive his murder – that was the most god-awful experience I ever had to go through. How do you get over something like this? You don’t. Every day is a struggle for us.”

Xiong-DuBose said her brother, Pheng Xiong, was born in a Thailand refugee camp and was the oldest of eight children in a family that was granted political asylum in the United States. Wichita police said Xiong, 35, known to his friends as “Panky,” was murdered by four men – three of them Asian Boys gang members – who broke into his home at 830 S. Erie on Aug. 4, 2012.

Police said two of the men held Xiong down on his bed as another, Caesar Louis, asked him if he had any last words before slashing his throat, nearly decapitating him. Louis, 25, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to more than 28 years in prison.

Jerry Thach, 24, one of the men who held Xiong down, was the first to be sentenced Friday. A Sedgwick County jury convicted him in February of first-degree murder and aggravated burglary. Because the murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, the main issue at the hearing was whether that sentence should run consecutively to the term for aggravated burglary. Defense lawyer Alice Osburn asked for concurrent sentences, arguing that Thach was not the principal participant in the crime.

Prosecutor Jennifer Amyx disagreed, describing the crime as a “gang-related, vicious, brutal murder.”

“While defense counsel defines this defendant as not being the principal one, he was certainly an active participant,” she said. “He held down the victim’s feet while he was nearly decapitated.”

District Judge Greg Waller noted that Thach seemed “detached and cavalier” at his trial before ordering him to serve his 49-month aggravated burglary sentence consecutively to his life sentence for murder.

The second defendant to be sentenced Friday was Vat Khamvongsa, 26, who went to police several days after the murder and solved what was quickly turning into a cold case. Khamvongsa later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Defense lawyer Brad Sylvester asked sentencing Judge Steve Ternes to depart from state sentencing guidelines and place Khamvongsa on probation. He said that on the night of the murder, Khamvongsa was hanging out with a childhood friend – Thach – and had no idea what Thach and his friends would be getting him involved in. He said Khamvongsa was shocked when he witnessed Xiong’s murder.

“My client was not part of the Asian Boys,” Sylvester said. “He did not have a beef with the man who was killed. … He was not anticipating that anybody was going to get killed.”

Sylvester said his client’s moral values prompted him to approach police and tell them what happened.

“Without him, there would be no convictions of the people who actually did it,” Sylvester said. “The community is not in any danger from this guy. I think that probation is very, very appropriate.”

Amyx said probation would not be appropriate for such a crime.

“It was not spontaneous. It was not subtle. It was deliberate choice after deliberate choice after deliberate choice. I cannot in any way underexpress the suffering and terror that Panky must have felt in his last moments on earth when one of the defendants asked him if he had any last words before slashing his throat to the point that he was almost beheaded.”

Xiong-DuBose also opposed probation.

“However sorry he may be, the fact remains that my brother is dead,” she said.

“To know that in my brother’s last moments, he was begging and pleading and no one would listen to him … I just hope that you take our pain into consideration. No matter how sorry Mr. Khamvongsa is, my brother is still dead. There were eight of us, and now we’re down to seven.”

Ternes said he could not find “substantial and compelling reasons” to deviate from state sentencing guidelines and sentenced Vat to 10 years and 3 months in prison.

A fourth suspect in the case, identified by police as Rathanak Chea, has never been arrested.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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