Death penalty sought in Lilburn family shooting

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty in one of the most calculating and brutal homicides in recent history - the execution-style shooting of a Vietnamese man, his wife and his 2-year-old son in Lilburn in December 2004.

Khahn Dinh Phan, 41, pleaded not guilty to multiple charges involving the shooting deaths during an arraignment hearing Thursday in Gwinnett County Superior Court, according to District Attorney Danny Porter. Porter said he filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty on Dec. 11.

"I think the fact that I'm seeking the death penalty shows how seriously we're taking the case," Porter said. "We believe it's a serious crime that deserves serious punishment."

According to police, Phan often spent time with Hung Thai and his family. Thai's son, Hugh, even referred to him as "Uncle Khahn," authorities said.

But Phan also had a reputation for gambling recklessly - at times losing up to $13,000 on a single bet on a sports game, according to preliminary hearing testimony. Phan, a married father of three, was a successful businessman who owned two nail salons in Lawrenceville and in Forsyth County.

Hugh Thai rarely gambled, but he acted as a middleman taking bets from Phan and placing them with a bookie, authorities said. Thai was known as a hardworking mechanic at a DeKalb County auto shop.

The night before the slayings, Phan reportedly visited the Thai family's house on Martin Nash Road in Lilburn. Thai's wife, Hoan Joanh Ta, told police that Phan stayed up late with her husband and spent the night on the living room couch.

The next morning, Phan allegedly shot Ta, then turned the gun on her husband and 2-year-old son. She received a gunshot wound to the head and suffered brain damage, but she survived.

Phan is facing two counts of murder, two counts of felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault, one count of possession of a firearm during commission of a felony and one count of aggravated battery.

The officer who led the police investigation, Detective S.K. Shaw of the Gwinnett County Police Department, said Phan's case merits the death penalty.

"Something that is this heinous, involving the death of a child, if there ever was a case for the death penalty I think this one meets the criteria," Shaw said.