Justice and closure are typically the main intangibles that grieving families of murder victims seek following their unimaginable loss.
For some families, it takes several years for justice and closure to arrive. For others, it never comes.
There was a time when the family of slain Baton Rouge grocery store owner Xuan Van Duong thought they were going to fall into the latter category.
Duong, a 49-year-old native of Vietnam and father of five, came to this country for a better life. That life was snuffed out in Baton Rouge on Dec. 20, 2003. Customers found Duong’s body face-down in a pool of blood behind the counter of Peter T’s Excel Market and Liquor. He had been shot three times.
Two men — Joseph M. Brown and Marlon “One Black” Washington — were arrested in January 2004 after Baton Rouge police found the murder weapon, a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, in the trunk of a car Brown was driving. Police also discovered dried blood, determined to be Duong’s, on Brown’s shoes.
Washington’s fingerprint was located at the bloody murder scene.
Despite that evidence, nearly six years would pass before Brown and Washington were indicted by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury in November 2009. They were charged with second-degree murder.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who took office in January 2009, said at the time of the indictments that the case was one his office reviewed, determined was in need of further attention and was presented to a grand jury.
That decision paid off Sept. 13, when a unanimous East Baton Rouge Parish jury found Brown, 33, of Baton Rouge, guilty as charged in the killing of Duong. The panel deliberated less than an hour. Brown will be sentenced on Oct. 11 to a mandatory term of life in prison.
“Fortunately we were able to get a conviction, albeit years later,” Moore said.
The second-degree murder charge against Washington in Duong’s killing is pending.
After Brown’s conviction, justice and closure are within reach to the Duong family.
“After 10 years, we now have closure and can move on with our lives,” Duong’s daughter Thuy Duong Tran said after the Brown trial.
Detectives testified at the trial that an anonymous tip led first to Brown’s arrest on Jan. 16, 2004, then to Washington’s later that month. And it was Cpl. Mindy Stewart, a crime scene investigator, who noticed that the shoes Brown was wearing that January day shared the same distinctive tread pattern as the bloody prints she observed at Duong’s store. She also detected the blood on his shoes.
“This was a very solid case, and it is one I give all the credit to the Baton Rouge Police Department — the uniformed officers and detectives — for doing a very good job in following leads,” Moore said. “This is a good example of how hard police work pays off.” He also praised the efforts of crime scene investigators and forensic analysts.
It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied, but the Duong family appears to have adopted an attitude of “better late than never.”
Moore reflected on the conviction and possible reasons why the case lost traction in the years after the arrests — most notably that Brown and Washington had been involved in other crimes.
Brown was convicted in 2006 of attempted armed robbery, aggravated burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and sentenced as a habitual offender to 70 years in prison. Washington, 31, of Baton Rouge, is also serving a 70-year term. He was found guilty in 2010 of manslaughter in the 2007 slaying of Harold Flowers III and also sentenced as a habitual offender.
Joe Gyan Jr. covers courts for The Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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