Man who killed witness in Tacoma Trang Dai massacre trial gets new sentence

A man sentenced to prison for killing a witness in the trial of Pierce County’s worst massacre has been re-sentenced.

Prasoeuth Chantha, 41, returned to Pierce County Superior Court on Friday. Nineteen years after he was first arrested, he asked for a reduced sentence.

Chantha was back before the court because his offender score was incorrectly calculated when he was first sentenced.

Chantha was originally sentenced to nearly 34 years in prison. With his corrected score, deputy prosecutor Jim Schacht said the high-end of Chantha’s sentencing range was nearly 33 years.

Judge Stanley Rumbaugh sentenced Chantha to 375 months, about 31 years in prison. He said he gave him a more lenient sentence to give credit for his good behavior while incarcerated.

“It does mean something to the court when a person tries to improve their behavior when sentenced to 20 or 30 years,” Rumbaugh said.

Chantha was 22-years-old when he was arrested for the killing of Kosal Sin. Sin, 21, had planned to testify against defendant Jimmee Chea in the Trang Dai massacre trial, The News Tribune reported.

In 1998, a group of people entered the Trang Dai cafe in Tacoma’s Lincoln District and started shooting. They killed five people and wounded five others, The News Tribune reported.

Called as the prosecution’s witness, Sin was going to testify that Chea had told him about a planned attack on the cafe the day before the massacre. Sin’s murder was gang related, and meant to silence him as a witness.

Facing a potential death penalty, both Chantha and Johnson Saly, 21-years-old at the time, pleaded guilty to Sin’s killing.

Prosecutors at the time said Chantha and Saly went to Sin’s apartment and waited for him to come to the window before shooting him. Sin died from a gunshot wound to the chest, The News Tribune reported in 2002.

Sin’s family came to court Friday. Two of his siblings gave statements to Rumbaugh.

His brother Oldy Sin asked the court to remember that Chantha’s killing of Sin had “affected our parents and hurt our family.”

Through tears, his sister, Maya Sin, added that Chantha’s murder had been premeditated.

“He thought long and hard about it,” she said.

Defense attorney Robert Quillian said Chantha was 22 and a half when he committed the crime, and that Rumbaugh should consider his youth, because of recent changes in juvenile case law.

“He was not a juvenile at the time of the offense but it’s a factor the court should take into account,” Quillian said.

Rumbaugh said that 19 years was too much later to make a ruling on whether youth had influenced Chantha’s actions.

“I can’t impute a sentence based on speculation that at 22 and a half Chantha was impulsive,” he said.

Quillian said that while in prison Chantha had worked to pay off nearly all of his more than $5,000 in fees associated with his case. During that time the fees had accrued interest, so he asked Rumbaugh to forgive the interest on his payments.

Rumbaugh agreed to forgive the payments because he said he has an “aversion to a debtors prison.”

“He will be relieved of further financial responsibility,” Rumbaugh added.

Before sentencing, Chantha presented a letter he had written to Rumbaugh. In the letter, he asked Rumbaugh to show him mercy, and said he has had a commitment to rehabilitation over his past 19 years in prison.

“I was raised in a neighborhood with gangs, drugs, and criminal activity,” Chantha said. “I felt the need to fit in. I used drugs to escape reality.”

He said that his time in prison has allowed him to change his behavior.

“I have goals to change myself to be a better man, better than my old self,” he said. “I cut ties with active gang members and focused on my family and my son.”

Chantha listed a series of certificates he has received while in prison, including his GED.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” he continued. He added that there is “nothing I can do to bring back life.”

Chantha then passed a stack of papers to Rumbaugh, which were the certificates he had been awarded while in prison. They included a business communications certificate, a certificate of proficiency in welding and other skills, and his high school equivalency certificate.