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8 years later, man pleads guilty to execution-style murders

Khanh Dinh Phan

Khanh Dinh Phan

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Gwinnett man accused of the 2004 execution-style murders of a 2-year-old and his father -- and the attempted killing of his mother -- entered a guilty plea Tuesday.

Khanh Dinh Phan pleaded guilty Tuesday and was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences by Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor. Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Lisa Jones said the move was "part of a plea negotiation with the District Attorney's Office so he could be spared the possibility of a death sentence if convicted at trial."

Phan pleaded to the Dec. 29, 2004, murders of 34-year-old Hung Thai, 37, and Hugh Huan Thai, 2, inside their home on Martin Nash Road in Lilburn. Hung Thai's wife, Hoangoah Ta, was shot once in the head as well -- but she survived after remaining in a coma for seven weeks and later identified Phan as the shooter.

The defendant was arrested in 2005 but awaited trial for many years. With Georgia's public defender agency struggling with funding and his lawyers not being paid, those attorneys filed motions in 2009 to dismiss the charges against Phan because they said the state had failed to fund his defense against the death penalty.

That motion went to the Georgia Supreme Court, which, in a split decision, decided not to prohibit Gwinnett prosecutors from seeking the death penalty but urged better adherence to speedy trial statutes.

Jones, the deputy chief assistant district attorney, said the case had been scheduled for a status hearing next week, and that "final evidentiary motions dates and a trial date were going to be set" after that if the plea had not been entered.