At the time of Sophal Phon’s sentencing in 1996, life without parole for 25 years was the maximum sentence.
Fast forward nearly 20 years later—In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole could not be imposed a juvenile homicide offender unless the crime was found to reflect “irreparable corruption” and in 2015 the court applied that ruling to those punished before 2012.
Phon’s public defender Tim Arnold explains, “the [Kentucky] Supreme Court ruled that because the sentence overruled the maximum that it was simply illegal and needs to be set aside. When he is re-sentenced his parole, eligibility would be 25 years from when he was first placed in custody in 1996.”
In 1996, Phon confessed to being part of the Asian Boyz gang and to shooting three people under the leaders request during a home invasion on Gardenside Way in Bowling Green—killing two and injuring their 12-year-old daughter.
Former Bowling Green Police Officer Brett Hightower assisted Kentucky State Police on gang-related cases and home invasions around the same time,
“The young daughter had been able to get to the next-door neighbors,” Hightower says, “and make the report and she later testified in court about what she had observed. I mean it really makes people re-think safety and security and how they handle it from a personal level to a law enforcement level. It’s very terrifying to not only the neighbors but to the whole community.”
Arnold tells us, “his time in prison I think he’s completely reformed himself. He’s been a model inmate for a number of years and I think changed completely into somebody who is appropriate to be considered for parole, perhaps at the time this happened that wasn’t so easy to see.”
Phon will be re-sentenced in Warren County Circuit Court.