Murder trial begins of man accused of stabbing, dumping bodies in Schuylkill

It was one of the most gruesome homicide cases in Philadelphia in 2014.

In the predawn hours on Aug. 27, police found the bodies of two men in the Schuylkill, near the rowing grandstands on Kelly Drive. The two had been stabbed, their faces were covered with duct tape, and their legs were weighted down with buckets of cement.

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Police were alerted after a third man clambered onto the riverbank bloodied, bruised, and stabbed.

On Thursday, a Common Pleas Court jury began hearing the trial of Tam Minh Le, 44, who originally was from Vietnam and most recently lived in Southwest Philadelphia. He faces two counts of first-degree murder and charges of robbery, kidnapping, conspiracy, and attempted murder.

In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Alisa Shver told the panel that the dead victims - brothers Vu "Kevin" Huynh, 31, and Viet Huynh, 28 - "were no choirboys," but did not deserve to die.

The Huynhs sold large quantities of marijuana, she said. They had a "business relationship" with Le, and owed Le and his associates $100,000.

"They had not paid back that money in years. They gambled at casinos. They drove nice cars," she said.

She said Le expected to get the money back "whether it be paid in dollar bills or it be paid in blood."

Defense attorney Daniel Conner told jurors that Le was not involved with the slayings and attempted murder.

Le is a "hardworking man" in the construction business, Conner said. "My client is not a drug dealer. My client is not a killer. ... He is a scapegoat."

Shver said that about eight days before the killings, Vu Huynh tried to get money to pay Le and his friends by going to upstate New York and buying marijuana, which he planned to sell.

New York officers, however, stopped him and seized the drugs, she said. On the afternoon of Aug. 26, Viet Huynh, went to Le's house on South 72nd Street near Grays Avenue.

Le was there with four associates, and they demanded the money, Shver said.

Viet didn't have the cash, so he called his brother. When Vu arrived, he found his brother in the detached rear garage "stripped down to his underwear, seated in a chair, arms bound, legs bound, eyes taped shut, bruised, beaten, and bloody," Shver said.

Vu "begged, he pleaded, he asked for an extension" to pay, but Le and his men refused, Shver said. The men, most wearing masks, tortured the brothers, she said. Vu called a friend to bring money, but it was too little, and that friend was beaten, too, Shver said.

After being tortured, the three victims were taken in a van, their eyes covered with duct tape, and driven to a parking lot on Kelly Drive just north of the rowing grandstands.

They were stabbed and "dumped into the river like garbage," Shver said. The two brothers had tar buckets tied to their legs.

Shver said that when police later searched Le's garage, they found a Walmart bag with a "whole bunch of used duct tape" inside with blood and human hair on it.

Also, she said, Le's cellphone records showed him leaving his house about 1:45 a.m. Aug. 27, then stopping by the river.

Police Officer Lamont Fox of the Crime Scene Unit testified that the two bodies were found in the river, one with a bucket of Tuff-Seal Roof and Flashing Repair still chained to a leg. The other body was floating; a cement bucket was found near it.

The trial resumes Monday before Judge Steven Geroff.

shawj@phillynews.com

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