Bellingham child rapist gets 40 years to life in prison

A Bellingham man must serve 40 years to life in prison for sexually abusing three young girls, a Whatcom County judge ruled this week.

A jury found Nen Than Phan, 56, guilty of 11 counts of child rape and child molestation in October. One victim reported she’d been raped daily, sometimes twice a day, over a span of five years. She came forward in 2013.

Phan was arrested at his home on Garland Lane. He confessed to “making love” with the girl, but he would not call it sex, according to charging papers filed by Deputy Prosecutor Jeffrey Sawyer. Before the trial the defense attorney, Andrew Subin, argued Phan, a Vietnamese immigrant, didn’t speak English well enough to understand a form police handed him. He signed the form, written in English, waiving his right to remain silent.

A motion by the defense, to suppress incriminating statements Phan made during a four-hour police interview, was denied by Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett.

Meanwhile, Bellingham police detectives found two other victims who said Phan sexually abused them, too, when they were younger than 10. One of the girls reported Phan made her perform oral sex; the other said Phan, naked, got into a bathtub with her and washed her private areas.

Police recovered DVDs from Phan’s home. One disc contained at least four downloaded videos of young children being raped or engaged in sex acts.

The jury spent one day deliberating before finding Phan guilty as charged: five counts of rape of a child in the first degree, two counts of child molestation in the first degree, four counts of child molestation in the third degree, and four counts of possessing child pornography.

“Mr. Phan maintains that he is innocent of all charges, and that the jury’s verdict is incorrect,” Subin wrote earlier this month in a sentencing memorandum. “That being said, the defense acknowledges that Mr. Phan has been convicted as charged.”

Phan’s attorney asked for a sentence of 23 years and three months, the midpoint of the time frame suggested by state law — enough time, wrote Subin, that it would essentially be a de facto life sentence.

Judge Garrett handed down an exceptional sentence Wednesday, Dec. 17, of at least 40 years in a state prison. After that, a review board will decide if he’s fit for release. If not, he could spend up to the rest of his life behind bars.

Phan had never been arrested before in the United States. He moved to Bellingham in 1983. Within a week Phan, a skilled drawer and sculptor, got hired at a manufacturing business in Ferndale, according to his attorney. The business makes braces and artificial limbs for children. Phan worked there until his arrest last year.

Phan did not speak this week at his sentencing hearing. He plans to appeal.