A Vietnamese teenager has escaped a death sentence under Vietnam's law for punishment against minor offenders after killing three people in a family to rob a gold shop.
Le Van Luyen, 19, was two months shy of his 18th birthday when he committed the crime in August last year.
Also thanks to the law, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison instead of a total of 36 years and nine months as he should have received for charges of "murdering," "robbing," and "abusing credibility to appropriate properties,", according to the hearing in the northern province of Bac Giang on Wednesday.
The provincial People's Court said under Vietnam's laws, offenders under the age of 18 can not be sentenced to more than 18 years in prison.
The court also ordered Luyen to pay VND316 million (US$15,000) in compensation to the victims' family, instead of VND1.6 billion ($76,000) as claimed by the family.
Six members of Luyen's family, including his father Le Van Mien, meanwhile, received jail terms between nine months and two years for abetting him and harboring his crime. The boy was arrested in Na Hinh, a border village near China in the northern province of Lang Son, one week after the murders
According to the indictment, on August 24 last year, Luyen snuck into the Ngoc Bich Gold Shop with two knives, planning to rob the shop to use the money to get back his aunt's husband's bike from a pawn shop. He had previously pawned the bike for VND5 million (US$240) to buy a mobile phone and hang out with his friends in Hanoi.
After breaking into the shop, he fatally stabbed the gold shop's owner, Trinh Van Ngoc, and his wife Dinh Thi Chin. Their 18-month-old daughter was killed as well.
The boy also cut the right hand of Trinh Ngoc Bich, the married couple's eight-year-old daughter, and slashed her arm and head before leaving with all the gold from the shop. The value of the gold was estimated at VND1.2 billion (US$57,000).
During the trial that opened on Tuesday and drew a large crowd, the family showed up in funeral clothes and brought the deceased ones' pictures to call for a death penalty against Luyen.
When the verdict was announced, the family was outraged and asked the court to give him the death sentence.
Tran Van Hau, a representative for the family, said they will file an appeal to oppose the sentence.
Lawyer Tran Chi Thanh, who represented the family, also said they will propose agencies launch further investigation into the case, because during the trial, many questions arose and weren't answered.
According to Trinh Van Tin, Ngoc's father, there must have been another criminal besides Luyen, because of all the wounds on Chin's body was one caused by a weapon other than the knives Luyen brought with him.
Bich, the only witness, previously told police that she saw two men in her house that day and that they even talked to each other.
"If agencies said Bich is a kid, then Luyen wasn't an adult, either. So, why did the court listen to Luyen's testimonies only and ignore Bich's?" Hau said.
Thanh said it was unreasonable that locals didn't hear any screams for help from the gold shop, considering that the murder took place at 6 a.m.
"Is there any chance that someone helped Luyen at that time, making the victims unable to scream for help?" he said.
In the meantime, judge Than Quoc Hung, who chaired the trial, told the local news website VnExpress that all collected evidence showed that Luyen had no accomplice. But he also said that in case new signs are found, local investigators will inspect the case again, and another trial will be held.
"What Luyen did was cruelly kill people, which is eligible for death penalty. However, Vietnam's laws regulate that sentences against under-age offenders are not more than 18 years. So, we couldn't do it differently," Hung said.
Asked about Luyen's indifference during the hearing, the judge said "perhaps it was because he has already known that he won't be sentenced to death."