The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday upheld the 40-year prison sentence of a man convicted of murder in the 2018 shooting death of his domestic partner at their home in Portland.

Anthony Leng sits in court in Portland in January 2018. Leng pleaded guilty in 2019 to murdering Sokha Khuon, his longtime domestic partner, at their Portland home on Jan. 7, 2018. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Anthony S. Leng, 42, pleaded guilty in September 2019 to fatally shooting his longtime partner, Sokha Khuon, 36. At the time of the murder, two of the couple’s three children were at their home on Dorothy Street. Investigators suspected that someone manipulated the crime scene to make it look like Khuon had wielded a knife and that Leng had acted in self-defense.

The state asked the judge to impose the highest possible sentence, and the defense recommended a lesser penalty of 30 years. The sides reached a plea agreement, a deal that stipulated Leng would face at most 40 years in prison. At his sentencing in December 2019, the judge imposed the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement.

“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 at the sentencing hearing. “The sentence in the absence of a plea agreement might have been more than 40 years.”

Sokha Khuon

Leng and his attorney argued in November that Horton did not give proper consideration to shorter prison sentences imposed in other cases with similar characteristics as Leng’s when crafting his prison term.

But on Thursday, Maine’s highest court affirmed Horton’s decision, issuing a 13-page opinion denying Leng’s appeal for a shorter sentence.

The justices wrote that the lower court judge “properly considered other factors in setting the basic sentence, including that Leng had threatened to kill his wife on numerous occasions before he murdered her, thereby demonstrating that he had formed the intent to commit murder at some earlier time, and that he had staged the crime scene to make the victim of his abuse appear to be the aggressor.”

“In sum, the court followed proper sentencing procedures, appropriately exercised its discretion in determining the sources and types of information to consider, and thoughtfully considered the relevant facts and sentencing principles in determining Leng’s sentence.”

Leng admitted to murdering his partner on Jan. 7, 2018, shortly before 10 p.m. after the couple returned home after watching a football game at a friend’s house, according to court records. The couple’s 10-year-old and 15-year-old sons were at home when their parents returned.

“Almost immediately, after Leng and his wife entered the kitchen, their younger son, who was in the living room, heard a single gunshot followed by more gunshots. He heard his mother say “ah,” believed he heard her fall to the floor, and heard his father crying. He also smelled the odor of gunpowder,” court records state.

The younger boy went into the kitchen and found his father standing by the refrigerator. His mother was lying on the floor near a pool of blood and a gun. His brother, who had been upstairs preparing to shower, fled from the home with his brother and called 9-1-1. An autopsy later revealed that the victim had died from multiple gunshot wounds to the head and neck.

The justices said in their opinion that the presence of children at such a scene of “horrific violence” represented an aggravated circumstance that exposed the children to risk of physical, neurological, psychological and developmental harm and warranted a lengthier prison sentence.

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