Murderer sentenced to death apologizes to victim's family

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, ST (WLOX) - A man sentenced to die for killing a Biloxi convenience store owner told her family he is "very sorry." On Thursday, a Harrison County jury decided that Jason Lee Keller, 30, deserved the death penalty for robbing and killing Hat Nguyen, 41, two years ago.

During closing arguments of the sentencing phase, Assistant District Attorney Scott Lusk told jurors that Keller had wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.

"He wanted to make sure that she was dead," Lusk said. "This is a man that does not deserve life in prison. He deserves the death penalty."

Prosecutors took jurors back to a day in June 2007 when Keller shot Nguyen while robbing her Biloxi convenience store. According to testimony, she ran out screaming for help, and Keller ran out behind her. She then went back in the store because her young son was asleep inside. Nguyen gave Keller money, then he shot her again, killing her.  Prosecutors alledge Nguyen was on the floor when Keller fired his forth and final shot.

Jurors decided Keller deserved the death penalty. After the sentence, Keller apologized to Nguyen's family.

"I'm sorry. I can't justify it. I can't change what I did. I'm very sorry," Keller said. "I will live with it the rest of my life, like you will. Every day, every night y'all are in my prayers. I just want to tell y'all, say I'm very sorry."

Nguyen's family left the courtroom feeling relived the trial was over. Her eldest son, David Pham, is a 24-year-old raising two minor brothers. He talked about how he felt about Keller's apology.

"At the very least, he did that," Pham said. "If it helps him to feel better for himself, I'm glad he did. But nothing is going to bring anything back. Nothing is going to bring a mother's love back or a sister's love back."

During the sentencing phase, Pham testified that Hat Nguyen was a generous, loving single mother of four boys. She worked seven days a week to support the family after they lost their home to Katrina.

Nguyen's family members said they are thankful to the jury, the prosecutors and the police officers involved in the case.

Before Keller left the courtroom, he thanked the judge and the jury, as well as his family for their support.  He turned to his elderly father, gave the thumbs up and said, "It's okay, Dad."

Keller had testified he was high on cocaine when he robbed and shot Hat Nguyen four times.  After the murder, he used the money to buy drugs.  He was out on bond for an armed robbery at a Gulfport bank at the time of the murder. Keller was later sentenced to life in prison for that crime because he was classified as a habitual offender. Prosecutors say the capital murder conviction was his sixth felony conviction.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.