UPDATE: Leesburg woman to serve 30 years for death of grandmother
A Leesburg woman convicted along with her mother of stabbing her grandmother to death was sentenced on Oct. 22 to 30 years in prison.
Julie Dong, 23, pleaded guilty on Aug. 12, 2009, to murder for stabbing her 66-year-old grandmother Hanh Thi Hoang to death.
Loudoun County Circuit Judge Burke McCahill sentenced Julie Dong to life in prison, but suspended all but 30 years. Virginia is a no parole state, meaning she must serve at least 85 percent of her sentence.
Julie Dong, then 18, and her mother Kim-Phoung Thi Dong, then 42, partnered to kill the elderly woman on July 23, 2008, in the Leesburg townhome the three shared on Golden Larch Terrace.
“I am so sorry for what I did and what I’ve done to you,” Julie Dong said in court as she turned to face her family sitting behind her. “I know that the hurt won’t go away … “
Julie Dong’s mother was sentenced to 35 years in prison for murder on June 3, 2010, following a jury trial.
In sentencing McCahill had to consider mitigating and aggravating factors, including Julie Dong’s history of mental illness and the negative influence family members said her mother had on her life.
Still he described the crime as horrific.
“Again this is one of those cases that comes to court where there are just losers no winners,” McCahill said.
Kim and Julie Dong, according to court records, went into Hoang’s bedroom on July 23, 2008, and Julie Dong stabbed her grandmother three times – once in the throat so deep it severed her spinal cord.
While Julie Dong stabbed Hoang, Kim Dong held a pillowcase over her head, prosecutors said.
Hoang’s body was found July 24, 2008, by her son Hiep Dong in an upstairs bedroom.
In court, Hiep Dong described his mother as a loving, caring person who raised five children. Her husband, who was suffering from stomach cancer, had died only months before her murder.
He said the incident has taken an incredible toll on his family, especially his children.
“You always wonder why? In my situation, I feel that whoever she was at that time, she was self-indulgent,” Hiep Dong said of his niece.
He asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
Dr. Jeffrey Aaron, a clinical forensic psychologist, testified that Julie Dong suffers from schizophrenia and had been plagued with the mental illness from as early as 13. She had been hospitalized at least once for her illness and participated in in-patient treatment.
At the time of her grandmother’s murder, Julie Dong had not been taking her medication for some time, Aaron said.
Aaron said Julie Dong and her brother Shaun had been subjected to mental abuse by their mother Kim as children.
Julie Dong’s mother, he said, engaged in frequent sexual acts in front of her children. There were also reports of Julie Dong’s step-father sexually and physically abusing her as a child, although the acts were never reported to authorities. Her mother would frequently leave for days and months at a time, he said. This situation, he said, left Julie Dong longing for her mother’s affection and gave her mother substantial mental control over her daughter.
“This bad account came because of her mother, someone who had a severe influence over her,” Aaron said.
Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman asked the court to impose the sentencing guidelines of 23-38 years.
“This was a very personal case that was encompassed in a family. This was not something that was out in the community,” Plowman said.
Plowman said he took into account Julie Dong’s mental illness and the control her mother had over her, but it didn’t take away from the brutal crime. Julie Dong, he said, initiated the attack the day of her grandmother’s death by waking her mother and telling her the time was right to kill.
“Julie initiated this ... Without that this might not have happened. She was also the knife-wielder … That’s a very personal killing. It’s hands on. It’s a very close and personal crime that can’t be overlooked,” Plowman said.
Julie Dong’s attorney, Aaron Book, said no one really knows what the motive was for killing Hoang. Kim Dong, Book said, was mad at the time that her mother wouldn’t allow her or her daughter to use her father’s car. Kim Dong, he said, was also upset that she wasn’t given any money after her father’s death.
“It seems clear to me that the driving factor in this crime was Kim Dong,” the defense attorney said.
Since her incarceration, Julie Dong has shown remorse, Book said, while her mother, Kim, has not.
“I think that had her mother not been in the picture … we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
He asked the judge to sentence Julie Dong to 20 years in prison.
“Although we argued for a somewhat shorter sentence, the sentence Judge McCahill imposed is fair. We hope that Julie will receive the mental health treatment she needs while she is in prison. Importantly, with this sentence, we hope the family can get some closure.”
But Julie Dong’s aunt Thuy “Tweety” Dong said after the sentencing closure likely won’t come – at least not for her.
“I still don’t know if I’ll ever see closure because we just don’t know why. We just don’t understand,” Thuy Dong said.
For past coverage, see: Ties that bind