Man who killed rival at wedding reception loses another bid to trim his prison time

A former Brooklyn, New York man who shot a rival at a wedding reception in Somerset County in 2002 has lost another appeal to reduce his 20-year prison sentence by arguing he is owed credit for jail time he served while awaiting trial.

A New Jersey appeals court on Tuesday found no merit in the arguments of Hai Kim Nguyen, who shot Tuan Thieu eight times during a wedding reception outside a Green Brook restaurant in March 2002. Nguyen, who was 25 at the time, and Thieu, 20, had a simmering dispute and had fought twice before, authorities said years ago.

Investigators tracked Nguyen, who used the first name Vincent, to his Brooklyn home, where he held off police for four hours while barricaded with his young son. He was arrested and charged with murder in New Jersey, and crimes related to holding his son hostage in New York.

The fact that he had cases in two states has been a theme in his resulting appeals, in state and federal courts, the appeals decision notes.

Nguyen was sentenced to a five to 15-year prison term in New York for charges that included reckless endangerment, then transferred to New Jersey for trial in 2009. In the Garden State, he took a plea deal the day before testimony was to start, pleading guilty to aggravated manslaughter and attempted murder. (Nguyen had also fired at a second person at the wedding, but missed.)

In New Jersey, his deal called for a 20-year term, with a 17 years before he’s eligible for parole. The two sentences were to run concurrently.

When sentenced in New Jersey, though, Nguyen was in the New York prison system, and he’s been arguing for years that some or all of his New York prison time should be credited against his New Jersey term.

Typically, a New Jersey defendant who spends time in a county jail prior to trial and is then convicted is eligible to have those jail days count toward their state prison term. It’s called time served.

In Nguyen’s prior New Jersey appeals, and a federal court habeas court filing, judges have ruled against him, finding the New York time does not count since they were separate cases in separate states, for different crimes.

Nguyen has argued they were in essence the same case, and he should get those days credited.

The latest New Jersey appeals panel was again unmoved by the argument, as well as related claims about his custody status in both states and how they related to exactly how many days he should serve for his crimes.

“We have considered defendant’s other arguments, including his contention that he should have been awarded jail credit as a matter of fundamental fairness and on equitable grounds. The arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion,” the Tuesday appeals decision says.

Nguyen, now 44, is currently in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, where records show he is eligible for parole in December 2026.

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Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected].

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