A man who was part of the worst mass shooting in Pierce County history will continue to spend the rest of his life in prison, a judge said Friday.
John Phet was 16 in 1998 when he waited behind the Trang Dai Cafe in Tacoma with another man, both instructed to shoot anyone who came out the back door.
That ended up being 21-year-old waitress Tuyen Vo, one of five people killed when a group attacked the karaoke bar, and Phet was convicted in 2002 of five counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
The judge at the time sentenced him to life in prison without parole, the only option then available.
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State law changed in 2014 in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violated their constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.
That meant Phet was back in court Friday to be resentenced by Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh, who gave him 25 years for each of the five murders, to be served consecutively.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Ellis asked that Phet be sentenced to 30 years for Vo’s murder and 25 years for the other four victims, and that he serve the sentences at the same time.
Serving them consecutively, Ellis said, would amount to a life-sentence anyway for Phet.
Rumbaugh noted that Phet had made “extraordinary strides,” in prison, and as a child grew up “without any meaningful constructive guidance of any kind” in an household that struggled with domestic violence, alcoholism and poverty.
But he said Phet’s youth at the time of the crime was not enough to allow him to serve the sentences concurrently.
“The court is fully aware this is the functional equivalent of life in prison without parole,” the judge said.
Prosecutor James Schacht hit home the fact that five people, not one, died in the July 5, 1998, shooting.
The group Phet was with went to the cafe in the 3800 block of South Yakima Avenue to get revenge on someone there and when they arrived fired indiscriminately inside.
The four others killed were 26-year-old Nhan Ai Nguyen, 33-year-old Tuong Hung Do, and brothers Hai Le, 27, and Duy Le, 25.
Five others were wounded.
Six people were charged and convicted in the killings: Phet, Jimmie Chea, Veasna Sok, Sarun Truck Ngeth, and Marvin Leo. Leo, a minor at the time of shooting, is expected to be resentenced later this year.