A judge on Monday sentenced a Portland man who murdered his longtime partner to 40 years in prison, citing in part the need to take seriously a crime of domestic violence.

Anthony Leng, 42, pleaded guilty in September and the 40-year sentence was the maximum allowed under his plea agreement. He shot 36-year-old Sokha Khuon at least five times in the Portland home they shared with two of their three children. The state asked the judge to impose that highest possible sentence, and the defense recommended a lesser penalty of 30 years. The hearing was held Monday morning at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

“For me to impose a 30-year sentence in this case would suggest that the courts do not take as seriously as they should a crime of this nature, and that’s not a message that the courts want to send to the community or to the defendant or to the victim’s family,” Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton said.

“The sentence in the absence of a plea agreement might have been more than 40 years,” he added.

Before the judge announced the penalty, Leng wiped his face with a wad of tissues and pulled a typewritten statement out of his suit jacket. He stood to read it out loud, but struggled to say the words.

“I can’t speak,” Leng whispered to his lawyer.

Defense attorney Peter Cyr read the pages as Leng sniffled beside him. The statement was an apology to his family and his community.

“On that day, I failed to keep control or keep in check my temper,” Leng said. “The outcome was that Sokha lay dead, and I was responsible.”

Sokha Khuon

The fatal shooting took place nearly two years ago on Jan. 7, 2018. 

Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said Leng shot his partner almost immediately after she walked in the door of their family home on Dorothy Street. Elam said the young mother did not have the chance to take off her coat or purse before Leng fired his first shot. The prosecutor said the evidence and interviews show Leng then paused before firing repeatedly at Khuon where she had collapsed on the floor. The couple’s two sons, ages 10 and 15 at the time, were in the home.

“The defense in their memorandum has suggested that this began as ‘a verbal argument, which quickly escalated into an uncontrollable state,’ ” Elam said. “This is not borne out by the evidence. He wanted to kill her, and he wanted to make sure she was dead, so he shot her again and again and again.”

Elam said Leng then staged the crime scene to make himself look like the victim. He scattered kitchen knives around the woman’s body and placed one in her outstretched hand. He told police she grabbed the knife to stab him, and he shot in self-defense. But police said the evidence contradicted his story, and Leng was soon charged with murder.

While Leng did not have a criminal record, the prosecutor said he abused his partner and children behind closed doors. She said Khuon was making plans to leave Leng and take their children to her family members in California.

“He knew that she was trying to separate herself,” Elam said. “He knew that he would no longer be able to threaten her and her children, that she was done with his cheating on her and threatening her and demeaning her. As she tried to escape, that’s when he killed her.”

Cyr said Leng decided to accept responsibility for what he had done and spared his children from testifying at a trial. He described Leng as a hardworking man who was employed for many years at the Portland Housing Authority, took his children on fishing trips and built a good reputation among his friends.

“This was a surprise to the community,” Cyr said.

But he seemed to acknowledge the evidence of a dangerous reality inside the family’s home. Cyr told the judge that Leng has been participating in a program for people convicted of domestic violence crimes while he has been incarcerated at the Cumberland County Jail.

“Not everyone who is accused or convicted of domestic violence accepts responsibility or sees that in themselves,” Cyr said. “In Mr. Leng’s case, he’s been working on it.”

An obituary for Khuon said she was born in Thailand in 1981 and graduated from Portland High School in 2000. She liked to watch her children’s sports games, garden, fish and cook.

“She was a favorite in her circle of friends and family, and especially dear to her nieces and nephew,” the obituary said. “She cared about everyone and was known as Auntie to most.”

The judge considered multiple letters from family members and friends. One was from Myra Khuon, the couple’s adult daughter. She sat in the front row of the courtroom Monday, but asked the prosecutor to read her letter out loud on her behalf. The young woman wrote that she missed the time when she felt her father’s love, but he began to abuse her when she came out as gay at 14 years old. Myra Khuon wrote that he repeatedly told her to kill herself, and she eventually ran away from home to escape him.

“You took a life away who had never hurt a soul,” she wrote. “I ask myself every day, why did you do this to her? At one point in life, I really thought we were family.”

She said the news of the fatal shooting recalled years of threats.

“I will miss the father part of you, but it’s time for you to go, so us kids and our mother can have some justice,” Myra Khuon wrote.

Leng did not react when the judge sentenced him. He looked straight ahead as his attorneys scribbled on their legal pads. When he stood, a tissue remained on the ground at his feet.

He had reached for those tissues occasionally during the hearing, especially when the prosecutor talked about his efforts to reach his 10-year-old son from jail against a court order.

Elam said one recorded phone call captured Leng asking the boy, “Do you miss me?”

“And the little boy said to him, ‘A little, but I miss Mom, too.’ ” 

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