Probably the most notorious killer on Alabama's death row was in a Mobile County courtroom on Thursday. Lam Luong had a hearing as part of his appeal process.
He was booked into Mobile County Metro Jail on Wednesday and will stay another night because of Vernon Madison's scheduled execution. The jail warden at metro jail says the prison is on lockdown for that, so Luong can't go back yet.
Luong threw his four young children off the Dauphin Island Bridge in 2008. The oldest child was four years old, the youngest was only months old. All four of their bodies were found over a two week period across three states.
Luong came into court Thursday looking different than his most recent mug shot, wearing glasses with a bandage over one eye, because of cataract surgery. Also very noticeable--a lot more security officers in the courtroom than normal.
This court appearance was supposed to be a routine post-conviction hearing, called a Rule 32 hearing, which is part of his appeal process. But things got heated quickly over a new interpreter for Luong. Luong doesn't speak English and needs an interpreter to understand his proceedings.
The defense wants a new interpreter for future post-conviction hearings. Luong's attorneys, who are with the American Civil Liberties Union, claim the current one, Tam Vo, is not adequate and also has a conflict of interest because he's a possible witness. Vo was appointed in November, paid for by the state, according to an appeal submitted by the defense. Vo was paid $65 an hour for a hearing in December. The new interpreter charges $60 an hour but would require travel costs.
One of Luong's attorneys asked the judge to appoint a different interpreter from Washington state. He would be able to provide "simultaneous interpretation," which is supposed to be faster. But Judge James T. Patterson denied the request because he said he doesn't want Alabama taxpayers to foot the bill for travel expenses, saying the state is quote "dead broke." He fired back at the defense, saying he'd approve the new interpreter if the ACLU will pay for travel costs. No conclusion was made.
Judge Patterson also added that there is no constitutional right to have a state-paid interpreter, contrary to what the defense was arguing. The judge pointed out that since the ACLU pays for an interpreter when they visit Luong in prison, they should be able to pay for a new interpreter.
The hearing went on with Vo translating for Luong.
After all that back and forth, a new argument came up. The defense asked if they could record the conversation going on between Vo and Luong, to make sure the interpretation is accurate. But, none of Luong's attorneys had an approved recorder. The hearing was put on hold for about fifteen minutes until one of them found a recorder.
The interpreter wasn't the only issue brought before the judge. The defense filed a motion for discovery in the case, but a representative from the Alabama Attorney General's Office argued that it is too early for that, and Luong is not entitled to discovery. The judge gave the state ten days to write a response, and the defense five days after that to submit a rebuttal.
Luong was convicted and sentenced to death in 2009. In 2013, the conviction was overturned by an Alabama appeals court when it ruled the case should have been moved outside of Mobile County due to pre-trial publicity. The following year, the Alabama Supreme Court reinstated the conviction and death penalty against Luong when it ruled the lower court was wrong to reverse the decision. That ruling stood after the Supreme Court of the United States refused to get involved in the case.
Luong remains on death row, ordered by a judge to look at the four young victims pictures every day in prison. He is set to go back to prison sometime on Friday.
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