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Life sentence ordered for Cottonwood Heights man who murdered his wife

Published: Monday, May 13 2013 3:00 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A Cottonwood Heights man was ordered to spend at least 15 years in prison after killing his wife years ago.

The maximum sentence for murder, a first-degree felony, was favored by the son of the late Touch Choun, who, during sentencing on Monday, called Dennis Wayne Lambdin "a bad man."

"Maybe she loved him when they first met, but when I lived with them, there was no love in that home," said Votha Choun, 24. "They didn't even sleep in the same bed."

Choun, a student at the University of Utah, said he witnessed many instances of Lambdin's verbal abuse toward his mother in the four years he lived at the home. At a time when Lambdin called Touch Choun a bad mother, her son said he "couldn't take it anymore."

"He was always angry. I avoided him as much as I could," Choun said.

In 2007, the then-teen confronted Lambdin and a physical fight ensued. Soon after, he left the home and begged his mother to do the same.

"I told her, 'You need to leave. He's a bad man. It won't stop, that's who he is,'" Choun somberly told the judge. He said his mother, a Cambodian refugee, had hoped to be reunited with her two daughters who had been adopted as young children by other families.

She had plans to leave Lambdin, but "waited until it was too late," he said.

Throughout the trial, Touch Choun was painted as an adulterous alcoholic. Court documents also indicate various instances of domestic violence involving the couple that were reported over the years that they were together.

Lambdin, 64, has repeatedly admitted to killing his wife in the kitchen of the couple's home on Aug. 17, 2009. The 41-year-old woman was punched, stabbed 19 times in the back with a kitchen knife, and then bludgeoned in the head with a decorative ceramic ball.

Police were called to the home after Lambdin emailed an acquaintance about killing his wife that day. Lambdin was also suicidal at the time.

A medical examiner determined Touch Choun died of shock, most likely caused by a loss of blood.

A jury found Lambdin guilty of the crime in January. His attorneys tried, even again Monday, to blame Lambdin's murderous actions on "extreme emotional distress" brought on by the strained relationship with his wife.

Third District Judge Vernice Trease, who joined the case late in the trial, said Lambdin was found guilty by the nature of the evidence presented and that any outstanding factors, such as the confusion of jury instructions or mischaracterization of the defendant that were raised again Monday by defense attorneys, would not have changed the jury's ultimate decision.

McKay Christensen, Lambdin's attorney, said her client has exhibited "profound regret and remorse" and has "grieved the loss of her life."

"He took the life of someone he loved," she said. "He really did love his wife. He wishes he could change the past, but he can't."

Through tears, Lambdin apologized to his wife's family and said, "I have to live with this for the rest of my life."

Trease said she wouldn't recommend credit for the nearly four years Lambdin has already spent in jail, but it could be considered by the state parole board.

In addition to the 15-years-to-life sentence, Lambdin was also ordered to pay $7,000 in restitution to the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, which helps to cover financial costs for crime victims.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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