By Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) – A Boston judge sentenced two ethnic
Vietnamese men to life in prison on Wednesday for one of the
city’s bloodiest murders — the point-blank shooting of five
men in Boston’s Chinatown 15 years ago.
Siny Van Tran, known as “Toothless Wah,” and Nam The Tham
were each found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder in
the predawn massacre at an after-hours social club, which
shocked Boston’s gang-infested Chinatown in 1991.
A jury also found the two, who were arrested in China in
1998 after an international manhunt, guilty of armed assault
with intent to murder for shooting a sixth man, Pak Wing Lee.
Lee survived a gunshot wound to his head to emerge as the
prosecution’s star witness.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel described the
murders as “systematic executions of five human beings,” and
said the two had no possibility of parole with each sentenced
to five consecutive terms of life in a Massachusetts prison.
“Justice was at long last served,” Suffolk District
Attorney Daniel Conley said in a statement after the verdict.
Illustrating growing U.S.-Chinese cooperation, China
returned the two men to the United States in 2001. Tran was
arrested in the city of Dongxing and Tham was picked up in
Shenzhen, both on other charges, and both in 1998.
A third suspect remains a fugitive.
Court-appointed lawyers for the pair were not immediately
available to comment. A spokesman for Boston’s Suffolk County
District Attorney said he expected the men’s lawyers to appeal
A former Massachusetts prosecutor who was involved in the
case, Ralph Martin, has said the talks between U.S.
investigators and Beijing over returning the men took place “at
the stratospheric level.”
China has no extradition treaty with the United States, and
Boston officials said it was initially unclear whether the two
would be returned.
Citing Lee’s account, a state prosecutor told the court the
victims begged for their lives after the three drew guns and
shouted “robbery” in the basement gambling den. The victims
were then shot in the head or at the base of the skull.
The survivor, Lee, thought he had been spared until a
gunman walked over and shot him. The bullet fractured his skull
but did not pierce his brain. When he regained consciousness,
he dragged himself up a staircase and called for help.
The trial illustrated deep changes in Boston’s Chinatown, a
web of narrow roads and restaurants where police cracked down
on gangs, purging the 5,000-strong community of much of the
violence that had plagued the area once called the “Combat