Crime

Death row inmate wins hearing that could lead to new sentencing

Jason Lee Keller is led into Harrison County Circuit Court court in 2009 during his capital murder trial in Biloxi. He was sentenced to death for the 2007 killing of Hat Nguyen, a Biloxi store clerk and mother.
Jason Lee Keller is led into Harrison County Circuit Court court in 2009 during his capital murder trial in Biloxi. He was sentenced to death for the 2007 killing of Hat Nguyen, a Biloxi store clerk and mother. Tim Isbell/Sun Herald File

Murderer Jason Lee Keller can have his trial judge hear a sentencing issue that could help him avoid the death penalty.

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Keller’s case in the capital murder of Hat Nguyen in Biloxi be sent back to the trial judge for questions on the sentencing phase of his October 2009 trial.

Keller, 37, claims his trial attorneys failed to sufficiently investigate mitigating evidence that could have swayed jurors to spare his life. In criminal defense, mitigating circumstances are those that don’t justify a criminal act, but are considered a fair manner of influencing decisions on the degree of punishment.

Hat Nguyen, 41 and a mother of four, worked seven days a week at Popp’s Ferry Road Food Mart in Biloxi. Keller robbed the store June 21, 2007, and shot Nguyen four times while her youngest child was asleep in the back of the store.

A sequestered Harrison County jury deliberated 30 minutes before finding him guilty of capital murder. In the sentencing phase, it took the jury five hours to sentence him to death.

Keller also is serving a life prison term for robbing a Hancock Bank branch in Lyman six months before Nguyen was killed.

He has lost several appeals since his sentencing.

In this complaint, he claims he now has numerous affidavits from friends, family, doctors and former teachers and classmates, and their statements should have been presented during the sentencing trial.

Keller had other complaints about his sentencing trial but the high court denied them.

A date for the hearing has not been set.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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