Kick Stop

When Luyen Nguyen was stomped to death 15 years ago, five men were locked up - but was justice served?

To Hitchcock's consternation, Mills came to trial still wearing his hair in the badass mullet he had the night Nguyen was stomped. He wore a black suit. He still seemed detached.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino prosecuted. After the jury watched the interrogation tape, Magrino told them to consider Mills' near-silence: that's a tacit admission of guilt, he said.

Hitchcock did not try to get the tape suppressed or edited. The jury watched the whole thing, even the part where Mills stood up and pantomimed throwing a punch into a melee.

Jeff Sintay on the witness stand
Jeff Sintay on the witness stand
Broward Circuit Judge Richard Eade
Broward Circuit Judge Richard Eade

Dr. Ronald Wright, the medical examiner, showed the jury photos of Nguyen's bruised corpse. Speaking unequivocally, and wearing a lopsided bowtie, Wright spent 30 minutes detailing the insults to the body of the five-foot, six-inch, 139-pound Nguyen. Each blow could have contributed to a stunning effect, Wright said; so when the final blow came, Nguyen was disoriented. His reflexes were gone. The cause of death, Wright said, was a subarachnoid hemorrhage due to a lacerated vertebral artery. In other words, someone whacked Nguyen so hard at the base of his skull that they split his artery, killing him. That's an extremely rare injury, Wright told the jury. Typically, someone felled that way is drunk. Disoriented. But not punch-drunk. And the toxicology report did not show any drugs or alcohol in Nguyen that night.

Jeff Sintay testified. He stood side by side with Magrino and told the jury he saw Mills punch Nguyen at the start of the brawl. Using Magrino as a stand-in for Nguyen, Sintay faked a jab, twice, to demonstrate. But this was almost just the opposite of what Sintay initially told police.

Asked by police if Mills hit Nguyen, Sintay had said "Er, I don't think so." Sintay told police that he'd met Mills before that night. Mills, he said, "was the one that was trying to keep anything from happening. He knew me and, you know, I guess he liked me or whatever. And he was telling me, you know, 'Something's gonna happen if you don't take your friends and go.'"

A few weeks later, Sintay told a jury that he'd never met Mills before the party at Springside Apartments, the night Nguyen was killed. He was adamant.

Mills has had plenty of time to think about this. "They're saying that by me calling these people down from the balcony, and knowing that they had a reputation for fighting, that I was putting the victim in harm's way," he says. But when "you really look at the situation, Jeff Sintay's the one that started this whole thing in motion."

Sintay, contacted recently, wanted no part of it. "It's over," he said. And then: "It was a long time ago."

Mills started the fire that night, Magrino told the jury. "The defendant is not a peacemaker. He's a murderer." On October 21, 1992, after deliberating for three hours, they found Brad Mills guilty of second-degree murder.

State guidelines for second-degree murder are seven to 22 years. Letters came for Judge Eade urging him to put Mills away for life, saying this was a hate crime. Make an example of him, they said.

"You can't do that to people," Eade says now.

On December 8, 1992, Eade cited the "savagery" of the crime, plus the fact that as young as he was, Mills already had a record for assault and stealing a car. Eade sentenced him to 50 years, with no hope of parole.

"You might as well give me the electric chair," Mills said in court.

After his son's conviction, Jerry Mills started taking Prozac. He needed to keep working to pay the lawyer's fees, and he couldn't stop crying.

It was around that time that he'd seen Brad cry, he says. That was rare. "Brad doesn't cry," Jerry says. But this time, Brad was saying, "People think I'm a monster." He'd been in prison for just five days at this point. There was this huge guy, a lifer, Korean, Jerry says; a guard told the Korean guy that Brad was a racist who killed a Vietnamese kid. So this huge Korean guy was going to kill Brad, Jerry says. "Now you've got an 18-year-old kid telling you, 'I may have to get a shiv or something to protect myself. Maybe I need to go after him first?' You're absolutely helpless. What do you do, as a parent? Do you break him out?"

Five years after Brad was sent away, Pam Mills started taking Prozac too, she says. The couple moved out of Broward a few years ago. They're in Palm Beach County now, in a pink stucco house in a gated community. They're both petite, both former gymnasts. Married for 39 years, they finish one another's sentences.

Brad was always a handful, they say. "He always had problems with authority, is how I look at it," Jerry says. "But we were always there, chasing," Pam says. "We tried to make him face the music."

The family was close, they say. They went to all of Brad's baseball games, even his practices, until Brad got shot. After that, he quit sports. But they still went camping and fishing together, and almost every night they had dinner together.

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