Parole Hearing Closing Statement
“On January 15, 1999, I shot and killed Mr. Minh Nguyen and tried to shoot and kill his three friends—David Tran, Vincent Vivongthanakul, and Andrew Vivongthanakul. When I killed Mr. Minh Nguyen, I did not harm only one human being.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, his three friends had to witness him choking to death because the bullets that I shot punctured his lungs. They may have blamed themselves for his death and felt a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from guilt and anger to hurt and fear, and everything else in between. Their view of the world and their place in it was permanently altered. But these are only words on what I imagine the impact my actions have had on each of them; I know full well that I am at best only scratching the surface of how much pain I have caused.
Mr. Minh Nguyen also had a mother named Julie Nguyen. She was never at my trial or any of my board hearings, so she has never had a voice in all this. This is a woman, though, that I am sure suffered in so many countless ways. Once again, I can only imagine. It’s hard to picture the horror, shock, and pain she felt in having to identify her son’s lifeless body. I do not recall hearing anything about Mr. Minh Nguyen having any siblings at trial, so perhaps I murdered Mrs. Julie Nguyen’s only child. There was never any mention of a father, so her son’s death has left her utterly alone. She came to the United States with what I am sure were dreams of a better life and being cared for in her golden years by her son. No wedding or birthdays to celebrate, no grandchildren to spoil, no Mother’s Day to be honored. I shattered those dreams and any others she may have had for her son. In my culture, one of the first questions strangers ask each other is about family—how many children do you have, what are their occupations, etc. She may have felt shame and stigmatized in some way from friends and family when they whispered that her son was killed by a gang member, with the insinuation that he was also one. Mrs. Julie Nguyen must have been reminded about her son’s death a million times since that awful day. Today, she might be filled with guilt for not wanting to share her son’s death because nobody can understand her pain. Spiritually, she may question God, the goodness in humanity, and may not even value the worth of living a good life. I also remember during my sentencing she had asked for restitution of $10,000 in funeral costs. The judge had denied it, stating that funeral costs would be set at $5,000. How awful would it be for a mother to have to hear that her burden of missed work days, sick days, and a million other tangible and intangible costs associated with her child’s murder was only worth $5,000?
I have also victimized my own family. My mother has had to live with a stigma of her own: to be the mother of a murderer. To this day, she tells her friends that I live far away. I know she blames herself for my situation, like somehow she failed in raising me properly.
For years, I shut out any thoughts regarding my life crime. I am ashamed to say that when I first came into the prison system, I had no sense of remorse. At the time, I could not even grasp the finality of what I had done and the enormity of the pain that I would cause to countless others. In my mind, I justified the whole shooting as something that was gang related; somehow, that made these young men that I tried to kill less human. That cowardly way of not taking responsibility prevented me from making any type of meaningful amends or contributing anything of value to this world. Over these last few years, though, I have started to comprehend, to my disgust, how far reaching my actions on that night were, and am finally living, what I believe, to be a life of atonement and penance that I hope in some small way can give a voice to the pain of Mrs. Julie Nguyen.
I am grateful that I have a chance for parole today. I say that knowing there was nothing particularly mitigating about my case. District Attorney Morrison stated it best at my last hearing: the only reason I have a chance at parole is because I lied at trial and have benefited from it. How do I reconcile that? How do I reconcile that I became a better person at the expense of another human being’s life? I have found solace and hope in my faith, with the principles of redemption, and with the understanding that even I am worth salvaging.
I have finally taken advantage of the opportunities that were there for me all along. I am not the same person, thanks to the psychotherapy groups, Alternatives to Violence workshops, self-help, and twelve-step programs I have attended. I have finally addressed what made it capable for me to murder another human being in cold blood; I have explored and changed the unhealthy thought processes that shaped my character and personality flaws. I have transformed the very fabric of my thoughts, my values, and have found purpose and meaning for my life despite my failures as a human being. Today, I live a life of nonviolence. Nonviolence, to me, encompasses the words I use, how I communicate, how I view others, how I view myself, and how I would like to leave an imprint of love and peace on the world. Today, I no longer fear failure, imperfection, setbacks, and difficulties. I have found fulfillment and personal enrichment in connecting with other human beings. I am no longer angry, alone, isolated, and plagued by feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness.
Recently, I spoke to my mother, and she was anxious and concerned about today’s hearing, but I felt the need to express to her how I saw things today. It was an extremely difficult conversation, but I posed to her the following scenario.
What if sixteen-odd years ago some gang members murdered me? Now here it is, 2015, and she has an opportunity to be at the board hearing to see the man that had killed me. And that man tells her he is sorry, he has turned his life around. He facilitates workshops and has numerous chronos and certificates; he is not the same person that murdered me. He believes he has addressed the issues that made it capable for him to be a murderer. And I simply asked her, ‘Mom, would that make up for the child you brought into this world?’ Of course she cried and said no. That’s when I told her we should instead be grateful I am alive, she can hug and kiss me, and see me become a better person.
Mrs. Julie Nguyen, on the other hand, will have to go to the cemetery and touch a cold gravestone if she wanted to visit her son. How unfair is that? How bittersweet it will be when the day that I am accepted back into society my family will be celebrating, and there will be an unheard voice still mourning the death of her son.
Mrs. Julie Nguyen is one of my many silent victims I would like to give voice to, no matter where my life leads from here.”