Brown convicted in killing of Vietnamese grocer in 2003

It took an East Baton Rouge Parish jury less than an hour Friday to give the family of slain Vietnamese grocery store owner Xuan Van Duong the justice they have been seeking for a decade.

The panel of eight women and four men unanimously found Joseph M. Brown guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of the 49-year-old Duong on Dec. 20, 2003, inside Peter T’s Excel Market and Liquor on Baton Rouge Avenue. The small store never reopened.

“My family and I would like to thank the judge, detectives, police offices and the entire D.A.’s office for all their hard work. We would also like to thank the members of the jury for their time and their return verdict. After 10 years, we now have closure and can move on with our lives,” Duong’s daughter, Thuy Duong Tran, said in an email statement.

Tran, who testified during the trial, was in state District Judge Mike Erwin’s courtroom for Friday’s closing arguments but was not in the courtroom when the verdict was returned.

Brown, 33, of Baton Rouge, faces a mandatory term of life in prison. Erwin scheduled the sentencing for Oct. 11. Brown displayed no emotion when the verdict was announced.

Brown already is serving a 70-year term for his 2006 conviction on charges of attempted armed robbery, aggravated burglary and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced as a habitual offender.

His co-defendant, Marlon “One Black” Washington, 31, also of Baton Rouge, has not been tried in the slaying of Duong. Washington, a three-time felon, is serving a 70-year term for the 2007 slaying of Harold Flowers III on Leonidas Street.

Police testified at Brown’s trial that Washington’s fingerprints were found in Duong’s store.

Brown and Washington were arrested in January 2004 in the killing of Duong but not indicted until November 2009. East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said the Duong case is one of the cold cases his office reviewed when he took office in January 2009.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors Barry Fontenot and Stephen Pugh reminded jurors that the murder weapon — a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol — was found in the trunk of a car that Brown was driving on Jan. 16, 2004, and Duong’s blood was discovered on the shoes Brown was wearing that day. It was determined that bullets and shell casings found at the murder scene were fired from that gun.

The prosecutors also said it was no coincidence that gum and candy still packaged in a box were located in the trunk of the car, along with assorted 24-ounce cans of beer. Pugh called those items “the proceeds from this crime.”

“At some point a coincidence upon a coincidence upon a coincidence equals a fact,” he argued, referring to the gun, blood and food items.

Duong, a native of Vietnam and father of five children, came to the United States for a better life, Pugh said.

Duong, who was shot three times, was discovered behind the store counter face-down in a pool of blood. A bloody shoeprint was left on the back of the jacket he was wearing.

“That man, after killing this man in cold blood, stepped on him like he was a bug,” Fontenot said, pointing at Brown.

Fontenot showed the jury photographs that police took of Brown on Jan. 16, 2004, and said he had the words “mob” and “killer” tatooed on his body.

“You know what — I take him at his word,” Fontenot said.

Brown’s attorney, Stephen Sterling, said in his closing argument that the stolen gun was never tested for fingerprints, and no one checked to see if the candy and beer found in the car actually came from Duong’s small store.

“I know what she wants,” Sterling said as he looked at Tran. “She wants justice. So do we.”

In an interview after the verdict was read, Fontenot praised Tran for her patience.

“She has handled this delay with extraordinary grace and class,” he said, adding that there was a time when the victim’s family thought his killers would never be brought to justice.