Anthony Leng appears in court Wednesday along with his attorney John Pelletier, left, to ask a judge reconsider his murder conviction for the shooting death of his long-time partner Sokha Khuon in 2018. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A judge on Wednesday denied an incredibly specific appeal to undo a man’s murder conviction for killing the mother of his children.

Anthony Leng, 47, of Portland, is serving a 40-year sentence for the death of 36-year-old Sokha Khuon, his longtime domestic partner with whom he shared three children.

Sokha Khuon Photo courtesy of family of Sokha Khuon

After a failed attempt to appeal his sentence in 2020, Leng argued at a hearing Wednseday that his former attorney failed to challenge crime scene details that prosecutors used to convince a judge to give Leng the maximum sentence under his plea agreement.

Leng pleaded guilty in September 2019 to shooting Khuon on Jan. 7, 2018. At Leng’s sentencing that December, prosecutors said he shot Khuon almost immediately after she entered the family home on Dorothy Street.

Khuon was planning to leave Leng after years of abuse, prosecutors said.

“As she tried to escape, that’s when he killed her,” Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said at the time.


An obituary for Khuon said she was born in Thailand in 1981 and graduated from Portland High School in 2000. She liked to watch her children’s sports games, garden, fish and cook.

At sentencing, prosecutors asked the judge to consider the fact that Leng shot Khuon nine times, including several times after she had already fallen, “as an aggravating factor” that merited a lengthier sentence. They said wood debris from bullets hitting the kitchen cabinets found in Khuon’s hair proved she had already collapsed when she was shot again.

But Leng’s current court-appointed attorney, John Pelletier, said in Cumberland County Superior Court on Wednesday that the wood debris wasn’t mentioned in either of two forensic reports the defense received from Portland police in 2019. Pelletier argued that Leng’s former attorney, Peter Cyr, had an obligation to challenge that theory at sentencing.

The argument was not only hyper-focused on a seemingly small detail, but it also faced two significant legal questions in order to win Leng another chance in court: Was Cyr ineffective, and did this have a significant impact on Leng’s defense?

“Here, Leng failed to show either part of the test,” Superior Justice Thomas McKeon wrote in his ruling Wednesday afternoon, issued unexpectedly hours after the hearing.

“Even assuming the State’s argued link between the wood chips and the conclusion that the victim was lying down was an overreach, Cyr’s decision not to address it during sentencing was not ineffective assistance of counsel,” McKeon wrote.


McKeon had already refused Pelletier’s request for more time to obtain an expert report questioning the state’s counter debris theory.

Anthony Leng, right, exits the courtroom Wednesday after asking a judge reconsider his murder conviction based on a small piece of evidence he said his trial attorney failed to contest. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Pelletier had argued the report would prove the seemingly minor detail would have made a major difference in Leng’s case. Cyr testified Wednesday that it was more important to him that his client seem remorseful; challenging a small element of the state’s case would not have fit that goal.

“We thought that in order to get less than the 40 years, we were really going to have to convince the court that Mr. Leng accepted responsibility for what happened,” Cyr said on the stand. “We didn’t want to poke the bear. We didn’t want the court to focus on that issue and contest it.”

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber argued it wouldn’t matter if Cyr even was able to challenge the debris theory, because Cyr’s forensic experts didn’t dispute the big picture – that Leng shot Khuon nine times, even after she had already collapsed, while two of their young children were in the house.

At Leng’s sentencing, Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton said he chose to give Leng a maximum sentence because he wanted to show that the courts take domestic violence seriously. Horton added that if it weren’t for the plea agreement, he might have sentenced Leng to more time.

Leng’s earliest release date in July 10, 2052, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. He would be 75 years old.

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