A jury Friday sentenced a Southwest Philadelphia man to death by lethal injection in the horrific 2014 slayings of two brothers who were beaten, stabbed, then dumped into the Schuylkill.
Tam Minh Le showed no reaction when the foreman announced the decision. His sister sobbed in the courtroom gallery. One female juror appeared to wipe away tears.
On Dec. 1, the Common Pleas Court panel of seven women and five men had convicted Le, 44, of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Vu "Kevin" Huynh, 31, and his brother Viet Huynh, 28, both of Paoli, and of related offenses.
After the jury left the courtroom, Le was asked if he wanted to speak. "I don't have anything to say," he quietly said.
"May God have mercy on your soul in His infinite goodness," Judge Steven Geroff told Le before pronouncing two death sentences on him.
Only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The last was Gary Heidnik, 55, of Philadelphia, who suspended his appeals and was put to death in 1999. About 175 people are on death row in the state.
Before being escorted out of the courtroom Friday, Le waved to his sister and her boyfriend, his only supporters there.
Tram Huynh, an older sister of the Huynh brothers, said outside the courtroom afterward: "I'm very happy it's over." She said she was "not necessarily" glad that Le was sentenced to death, "but that's what he deserves."
Defense attorney Daniel Conner said Le's sentence would be automatically appealed to the state Supreme Court. The "evidence against the defendant was overwhelming," Conner said, but he added that Le from the start has maintained his innocence.
Defense attorney Regina Coyne said: "It is extremely sad for the families and everybody involved."
In her closing argument in the penalty phase on Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Alisa Shver – who prosecuted the case with Ed Cameron, an assistant chief in the DA's homicide unit – urged jurors to sentence Le to death because "some crimes are worse than others."
Walking toward the defense table, she pointed to Le and said: "He is an intentional, willful, malicious, cruel, coldhearted, double killer. That is who he is." As she spoke, Le kept his head lowered.
Coyne urged jurors to show mercy on Le and to think of his children. Le at the time lived with this then-girlfriend and their five kids, three of whom are his biological children. At the end of her closing argument, Coyne left jurors with a video of three of the children, ages 5 to 12, as they told Le: "We love you, we miss you. Bye-bye."
Evidence in the trial showed that the Huynh brothers, who sold large quantities of marijuana, owed Le and his associates $100,000, but gambled it away instead of repaying it.
On the night of Aug. 26, 2014, the Huynh brothers and their friend, Tan Voong, were beaten, blindfolded, and bound in Le's garage on 72nd Street near Grays Avenue. Voong, now 24, testified that besides Le, four masked men in the garage harassed them and beat them over the money.
The victims then were taken into Le's van and driven to the Schuylkill, north of the rowing grandstands on Kelly Drive, where they were repeatedly stabbed before being dumped into the river.
After the van left, Voong waited a couple of hours, then clambered out of the river onto the banks about 4 a.m. Aug. 27.
The brothers, whose legs were weighted down with tar buckets and who had duct tape around their heads so they couldn't see or speak, then were found dead, floating in the water.
The judge Friday also sentenced Le to a consecutive 30 to 60 years in prison on attempted murder and conspiracy charges.
This wasn't Le's first homicide. He had been convicted of manslaughter for a 1993 shooting death of a man in Rochester, N.Y.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours over two days before reaching their decision.
The jury foreman said in court that the panel agreed with prosecutors that the brothers had been tortured. Vu Huynh had been stabbed 32 times, his brother 11 times.
Le inflicted "pain for the sake of pain" and tortured the Huynh brothers, who suffered a "repeated bloodletting," Shver has said.