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Baumhammers to be sentenced to death today; Judge to affirm jury's May decree

Thursday, September 06, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Correction/Clarification: (Published Sept., 7 2001)

Richard Baumhammers murdered five people and wounded a sixth on April 28, 2000. The date was incorrect in a story yesterday.

On Father's Day this year, there was an empty seat at the dinner table where Chris Pham and his mother, Bonnie Ngo, sat with their family. The empty chair and the accompanying place setting was left in memory of Chris' father, Thao "Tony" Pham, one of the five people murdered by Richard S. Baumhammers.

The setting is part of Bonnie Ngo's culture and Buddhist religion, said her attorney, Charles A. Knoll Jr. In Pham's honor, they burned a portion of his meal as an offering.

"It is to make a spiritual contact with [Pham's] portion of the dinner. That's how they handled it and helped Chris deal with another Father's Day without Tony," Knoll said yesterday.

In May, a jury convicted Baumhammers, 36, a suspended lawyer who lived with his parents in Mt. Lebanon, of five counts of first-degree murder. The jury then sentenced him to death.

At a hearing this afternoon before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, Baumhammers will officially be sentenced to die by lethal injection.

Chris Pham, now 7, and his mother, again because of religious and cultural beliefs, won't be there. Nor will relatives of some of Baumhammers' other victims.

Others, like Zetta Lee of Aliquippa, will make it a point to witness this stage of the administration of justice.

"I have to make sure that things are done right," said Lee, whose son, Garry, was the last of the six shooting victims and one of the five who died.

"Basically, I just want him to pay for everything that he's done. Everything. For all of the families, and all the damage and everything, he needs to pay for all of that. Not just because [Garry's] my son, but because of all the hurt that he's caused," Lee added.

Baumhammers also was convicted of 20 other charges: eight counts of ethnic intimidation; three counts of arson; two counts each of institutional vandalism and criminal mischief; and one count each of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and a weapons violation.

For these convictions, Manning could sentence Baumhammers to a maximum of 266 years in prison, a sentence that would not come into play unless the death sentence were to be commuted.

Besides Baumhammers' parents, Andrejs and Inese Baumhammers who both are dentists, only one official objection has been made to his death sentence.

In an Aug. 30 letter to Manning, Uvis Blums, the first secretary at the Latvian embassy, asked that Baumhammers not be executed. The Baumhammers family holds dual citizenship in Latvia and the United States.

"[The death penalty] contradicts values of Latvian people and is not consistent with principles widely established in European and international legal instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [of which] Latvia and the United States are party to," Blums wrote.

Manning said that he did not respond to Blums in writing, but he said recently:

"As long as fundamental human rights are preserved within the system of justice of a sovereign nation, as they surely are in these United States, the opinion of some foreign government is of little significance."

Before he was captured after the April 28 rampage, Baumhammers had defaced the Beth-El Synagogue in Scott, the place of worship of Anita Gordon, his Jewish neighbor who was the first to be killed.

He then went to a nearby shopping center where he killed Anil Thakur, a computer engineer who was in this country on a temporary work visa from India, and critically wounded Sandip Patel, 26, a clerk, at the India Grocers, a shop in Scott Towne Center that is owned by Patel's sister, Leena Patel.

Next, Baumhammers vandalized a synagogue in Carnegie, then he went to a Chinese restaurant in Robinson Town Centre, where he killed Ji-Ye "Jerry" Sun, the assistant manager, and Pham, a deliveryman who was there.

Garry Lee, a black man from Aliquippa, was gunned down at a karate studio in Center, Beaver County.

Members of each of the families, except Thakur's, have filed civil claims against Baumhammers and his parents.

Patel still is paralyzed from the neck down and is living at the Kane Center in Ross, said his sister, Leena, who will not be present at today's sentencing.

"I don't want to see [Baumhammers]," Leena Patel said yesterday.

She said her brother still suffers from depression, but his physical condition fluctuates.

"He's physically on and off. Some days are good. Some days are bad," she said yesterday. "He needs a lot of therapy and that."

Deputy District Attorney Edward J. Borkowski, who prosecuted the case, is expected to argue that Baumhammers should be sentenced to as much time as allowable by law, considering that that fateful day marked Baumhammers' first criminal offense in this country.

He said his argument would have no effect on the death sentence, only the remaining charges for which Baumhammers is to be sentenced.

"There'll be members of the family present. If, at that time, they wish to address the court, they'll be given that opportunity," Borkowski said yesterday. "The judge has discretion on the underlying charges."

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