A Sedgwick County jury deliberated about four hours Thursday before convicting a Wichita man of first-degree felony murder for holding down a man’s legs while a co-defendant in the case cut the victim’s throat.
Jerry Thach, 24, will be sentenced March 27 for his role in the death of Pheng Xiong, 35, who was killed in his home at 830 S. Erie on Aug. 4, 2012.
Prosecutors said Thach held Xiong’s feet as Caesar Louis, 25, asked Xiong if he had any last words, then cut his throat from ear to ear with a large hunting knife.
Wichita police said Xiong was killed because he made comments that the suspects, who were members of the Asian Boys street gang, thought were disrespectful.
Louis was sentenced to more than 28 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Amyx told the jury in her closing argument Thursday that the defendants acted with premeditation when they killed Xiong, who went by the nickname “Panky.”
“Panky wasn’t murdered in the blink of an eye,” she said. “The decision to kill him wasn’t instantaneous. His death didn’t take place in the snap of a finger. Panky was violently, brutally killed, and in his last minutes on earth he knew it was coming – the same way the defendant knew it was coming.”
She said there was no way that Thach, who was holding Xiong’s feet, didn’t know he was about to witness a murder.
“Is that statement ambiguous in any way – ‘Any last words because you’re about to die?’ ” she asked.
The “any last words” phrase came from one of the key witnesses at the trial, Vat Sana Khamvongsa. He told the jury that he was among a group of four men who forced their way into Xiong’s home before killing him.
Khamvongsa, 24, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify for the prosecution. A fourth suspect in the case, who went by the nickname “Joker,” has not been arrested.
Defense lawyer Alice Osburn reminded the jury in her closing argument that Louis was the one who killed Xiong, not her client.
“Your mere presence at a crime doesn’t make you guilty of the crime,” she said.
She said the state’s aiding and abetting law “requires you to have the same thought process as the principal actor” – something she said her client did not have.
Osburn cautioned the jury against giving too much weight to the testimony of Khamvongsa, who may have avoided a life prison sentence by reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Osburn said that Khamvongsa, when he testified at a preliminary hearing in December 2012, said he heard silence before Xiong’s throat was cut. Only after the case went to trial, Osburn said, did he mention the “any last words” comment.
“The state is basing its entire case on what Vat says happened,” she said.
During the trial, it became evident that there are several variables that tie Xiong’s death to the Jan. 11, 2013, slaying of Shawn Lindsey, whose body was found in a field near K-96 and Hillside.
Wichita police said Lindsey was injected with a lethal dose of meth in an auto repair shop at 118 S. Vine. Witnesses at Thach’s trial said Thach and the other defendants in the case went to the same address after Xiong was killed.
Among the defendants in the Lindsey homicide are Justin Jones and Jason Jones, both 38, who are awaiting trial for first-degree murder in Lindsey’s death. The Jones brothers’ names were mentioned several times during Thach’s trial, but they were never linked to Xiong’s murder.