A hammer-wielding armed robber whose partner in crime shot dead a fruit shop employee will spend at least 14 years behind bars – despite a veteran judge saying his culpability was the lowest she had ever encountered in a murder trial.
Jame Phan, also known as Van Linh Dang, did not fire the shots that killed “extremely courageous” Villawood shop hand Kamran Yousaf but was convicted by a jury of his murder.
Phan had already pleaded guilty over a spate of armed robberies, after ransacking the till at a southwest Sydney Subway, a Chinese restaurant and a FoodWorks shop in the days leading up to Mr Yousaf’s death.
Members of Phan’s family wept in the public gallery of the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney on Thursday as the judge sentenced him to a 20-year jail term, with a 14-year non-parole period.
Acting Justice Jane Mathews described how Phan and gunman Lance Lachlan Murdoch arrived at the Villawood Value Fruit Market on October 12, 2013, wearing surgical masks and hooded tops.
Murdoch carried a small silver pistol, while Phan was armed with a hammer, and the pair approached two shop employees who were having lunch in the rear lane behind the fruit market, demanding to be taken to the tills.
Inside the shop, as Saturday afternoon shoppers including an 11-year-old girl watched on, Phan had taken hold of one of the tills and made a run for the rear lane – but Mr Yousaf would not let him go.
As Phan and Mr Yousaf struggled in the lane behind the fruit market, Murdoch doubled back and shot the “extremely courageous” worker in the stomach and back, Justice Mathews said.
Even as he was dying, Mr Yousaf maintained his grip on Phan and, along with a co-worker and a customer, managed to drag him back into the shop and tie him up to await police.
Justice Mathews said the jurors’ verdict and their questions during deliberation made it clear they believed Phan thought Murdoch might fire his pistol during the robbery, perhaps as a warning shot.
“I can safely say that in my long experience of murder trials, his is the lowest level of culpability I have ever encountered,” Justice Mathews said.
The judge said Phan, now 30, had an “extremely difficult” life after emigrating to Australia as a young child.
At school, Phan had struggled with poor English skills; at home, he was physically and emotionally abused by his father and, later, his stepfather.
He had struggled with drug addiction since his teens and his crimes were committed to “feed his drug dependency”.
“If Mr Phan can refrain from reverting to substance abuse, he is unlikely to re-offend,” the judge said.
Murdoch will be sentenced at a later date.