The Vietnamese immigrant mother of four young children tossed to their deaths from an Alabama coastal bridge testified Monday that her common-law husband laughed when he told her that the children — then reported missing — would never be found.
"He kept laughing," Kieu Phan, 23, told jurors at Lam Luong's capital murder trial.
Phan burst into tears when color photographs of the children were flashed on a screen for jurors. Prosecutors said they will seek a death sentence if Luong is convicted.
The 38-year-old defendant sat motionless as the woman identified each of the victims by name: their children together, Hannah Luong, 2, Lindsey Luong, 1, and Danny Luong, 4 months — and her son with another man, Ryan Phan, 3.
Accused of tossing kids after argument
Luong is accused of throwing the children from the bridge on Jan. 7, 2008 after an argument with his wife.
Phan, whose testimony in Vietnamese was interpreted by a translator, said Luong at first told her he had left the children with a woman in Bayou La Batre. By 7 p.m. when they didn't return, she went to police and began a frantic house-to-house search.
Later, when his story came under scrutiny and he was taken into custody, Luong called from jail to tell her: "They are all dead," according to her testimony.
"No way that we can find the children," she said he told her. "He kept laughing."
Prosecutors claim Luong, a Vietnamese refugee and part-time shrimp boat worker, drove the family van to the top of Alabama's two-lane Dauphin Island bridge and tossed the children into the Mississippi Sound, some 80 feet (24 meters) below.
Officials said most of the children suffered injuries to the head or neck in addition to asphyxia due to drowning. They said only the youngest, Hannah, died from drowning alone.
Hundreds of volunteers help recover children
The four tiny bodies were recovered from waters off the Gulf coast during a search involving hundreds of volunteers in boats, aircraft and scouring the shoreline on foot.
Phan testified that the couple's relationship soured after they moved from Alabama after Hurricane Katrina demolished Bayou La Batre on Aug. 31, 2005, and relocated to Hinesville, Georgia.
Phan said Luong had a girlfriend and began using crack cocaine. She said the family moved back to Mobile County after Luong was fired from a restaurant job. Luong also returned, but couldn't find work, according to testimony.
At a hearing on March 5, Luong pleaded guilty, but he subsequently reversed that decision after learning a trial would be held despite the plea. A jury of 10 men and 6 women, including alternates, was seated to hear the case.
Luong came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam at 14. Immigration records indicate that he gained legal permanent residence status as a refugee, but never became a U.S. citizen.