Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

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College student’s killer avoids death sentence with plea bargain

Prosecutors have dropped their attempt to seek the death penalty for the man responsible for the slaying of a UNLV student in an MGM Grand hotel-casino restaurant.

Comparisons with the plea bargain for Jeremy Strohmeyer -- who avoided death by accepting three life-prison sentences without the possibility of parole for the rape and murder of a Los Angeles girl -- is reported to have prompted Thursday's deal for Vinh Sinh Truong.

Truong already had pleaded guilty and was awaiting a decision on his sentence by a three-judge panel, which he hoped would be more lenient in sentencing than a jury.

In Thursday's deal, Truong accepted two life-prison terms without the possibility of parole plus 50 years for robbery and burglary.

Like the Strohmeyer case, the plea bargain waited until the last minute. Strohmeyer's lawyers waited until the weekend before opening statements of his trial on Sept. 8 to approach prosecutors about a deal.

While the defense in the Truong case always sought to avoid the death sentence, Deputy District Attorney David Barker said there was no "offer on the table" until last week. Truong was scheduled to face the judicial panel on Monday.

Also like the Strohmeyer case, Barker said the resolution of the sentence will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in appeal costs.

The stabbing death of 20-year-old Lisa Sadie occurred as Truong was stealing $25,000 in cash from a safe in the Studio Cafe where he had worked on the graveyard shift until his termination for tardiness.

Sadie, who worked there as head cashier to put herself through film studies classes, was stabbed to death after a blow to her head with a ketchup bottle failed to stop her screaming, Truong has admitted.

When he pleaded guilty, Truong explained that he stole the $25,000 in October 1996 to repay loan sharks that were circling.

Truong was arrested in blood-stained clothes a short time after the incident as he was leaving the Palace Station hotel-casino, but by then $2,000 of the stolen funds already were gone.

The three-judge panel was going to be necessary because Truong pleaded guilty to all charges without a plea bargain in what appeared to be a calculated gamble to escape the death penalty.

Normally juries decide both guilt and penalties in murder cases, but since his guilty plea made a jury decision unnecessary, Nevada law says the job of deciding the sentence falls to the judges.

The gamble for Truong is that District Judge Jeff Sobel and the others would overlook the brutal nature of the slaying and the defendant's history of crime to give him a life-prison term with or without the possibility of parole. Truong had past convictions for embezzlement and counterfeiting.

All three judges must agree for a defendant to be given the death penalty or sentenced to prison for life with or without the possibility of parole.

If they don't agree, a new panel of judges must be formed.

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