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Rudy Kham and his wife Lean Sin escaped the Killing Fields of Cambodia in 1979 in search of a safe and peaceful life in America.

They settled in Santa Rosa in 1981 and raised three children while working long days to support their young family.

But violence beset the family again in 2007, first when one son was kidnapped and tortured by gang members in a dispute over drugs and money.

Then, in 2008, related gang members abducted another son, Vutha Au, 24, and shot him nine times in a parking lot at Blind Beach on the Sonoma Coast, an apparent effort to send a message to the first brother about "snitching."

On Friday, the four men convicted of murdering Au in retaliation for his brother's testimony in the 2007 case were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole.

In an emotional court hearing, Kham struggled to compose himself as he explained to Judge Ken Gnoss what the violence has done to his family, from fleeing the deadly Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to encountering gang violence in the U.S.

"I wish ... if I could do anything to bring my son back, I would do it for him," he said. "I believe in God. God has a plan for everything and everyone."

Still, he said, sometimes he wants to sleep and never wake up. "My loved ones are my life," he said.

A video prepared for the hearing showed Au in baby pictures, at birthday parties and family vacations, a happy boy growing into a social young man.

"You took our son ... you took our brother ... you took our friend," words flashed on the screen to a song of loss. "You broke our hearts. Why?"

In a letter to the court, Au's mother said he was a thoughtful son, a devoted brother and a dedicated worker.

"I don't understand why an innocent person like Vutha had to be killed," she wrote. "Every time I close my eyes I see a vivid image of what happened to my son Vutha, being shot many times and killed."

The four defendants — Preston Khaoone, 26, David Prak, 23, Sarith Prak, 26, and Quentin Russell, 29 — expressed no emotion during their sentencing, but occasionally glanced at the Au family or their own relatives assembled for the hearing.

David Prak addressed Au's family in Cambodian, apparently an apology.

His lawyer, Steve Weiss, said the case breaks his heart because Prak could have achieved something in life had he not chosen the gang life. The defendants were reputed Asian Boyz gang members.

Russell, though, seemed to defend the gang life in brief comments. He apologized to Sin and his own mother.

"The gang life is all I know," he said, shrugging and upturning his hands as if in explanation. "I've been living it since I was yay high.

"You guys don't understand gang life," he said, facing a crowded gallery that included several jurors from the trial. "Yeah, you see the bad side of it ... It's not a choice. It's what you live. It's part of you."

"You may not take it," he said to Au's mother. "But I'm telling you I'm sorry."

After his brother was kidnapped and tortured by brothers of Khaoone, Au was placed in the witness relocation program for his protection. He was supposed to stay away from the area, but returned. Investigators said when Preston Khaoone and his friends learned Au was in town, they plotted to attack him.

Au was taken March 2, 2008 from a pool hall in Santa Rosa to Blind Beach off Highway 1 south of Jenner, where he was shot late at night. A park ranger saw a car speeding from the area and radioed a description to sheriff's deputies, who minutes later stopped the defendants' car on Highway 116.

The four defendants and two others were convicted of various charges in the case.

Gnoss sentenced Khaoone, the Praks and Russell to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus two years for a gang enhancement and another 25 years to life for a gun charge. Another 45 years for the use of gun, two other gang enhancements and the kidnapping conviction were stayed in conjunction with the life sentence.

The other two defendants, Tyrone Tay and Boonlak Chanpheng, both 30, pleaded guilty to related charges and are serving 18- and 15-year sentences, respectively.

(Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)