July 17th, 2024

Colorado man gets 60 years for setting fire that killed a Senegalese family of 5

By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press on July 2, 2024.

DENVER (AP) – A Colorado man was sentenced to 60 years in prison on Tuesday for setting a fire that killed five members of a Senegalese family out of revenge for a robbery after he mistakenly tracked his stolen iPhone to the house.

Kevin Bui, now 20, pleaded guilty to the killings in May. He is the last of three friends to be sentenced for the August 2020 fire that killed Hassan Diol, her infant daughter, Hawa; Diol’s brother, Djibril Diol; his wife, Adja Diol; and their 22-month-old daughter, Khadija.

Prosecutors have portrayed Bui as the ring leader of the group.

Police say Bui told them he had been robbed of his phone, money and shoes while trying to buy a gun shortly before the fire. Using an app to track his phone, they say he mistakenly believed the people who robbed him lived in the home.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

DENVER (AP) – In between shifts at Amazon to earn money she could send home to her relatives in Senegal – working opposite times as her sister-in-law so they could care for each other’s children – Hassan Diol would call to talk to her husband several times a day.

Amadou Beye was still in Senegal, trying to get a visa so he could also come to the United States. His wife, joined by their infant daughter, would also video call every day. Amadou Beye couldn’t wait to meet his child and see his wife again.

But he never got that chance.

Diol and their little daughter, Hawa, and three other members of their extended family were killed in a house fire in Denver in 2020 that authorities said was set in the middle of the night by a group of teens in a case of mistaken revenge.

The last of the three suspects could be sent to prison for 60 years during a hearing Tuesday after pleading guilty to reduced charges in a plea deal.

Beye sees Kevin Bui, now 20, as a “terrorist” for taking five members of one family, which also included his wife’s brother Djibril Diol, who was an engineer, his wife Adja Diol, and their 22-month-old daughter.

Their bodies were found on the first floor of the home near the front door as they apparently tried to escape the flames. Members of another family that also lived in the home managed to escape.

When he was killed, Djibril Diol was working on a large rebuilding of Interstate 70 in Denver and dreamed about returning to Senegal to build roads there, according to previous testimony from friends and family.

Beye, who was granted an emergency visa after the fire, works as a mover and tries to avoid being alone in the evenings to keep from thinking about what he has lost. With his roommate working nights as an Uber driver, he goes to the gym or calls family and friends late at night back home.

“I just don’t want to be thinking about that when I’m alone,” said Beye, who plans to speak at Bui’s sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors have portrayed Bui as the ring leader of the group that started the fire. The son of immigrants from Vietnam, he had been helping his older sister, Tanya Bui, deliver drugs she was dealing around the time of the Aug. 5, 2020, fire, according to federal court documents. The sister’s enterprise was accidentally discovered when police searched their family’s suburban Denver home as part of the fire investigation, and she is currently serving a nearly 11-year federal prison sentence.

After being arrested in connection with the fire, Bui told investigators he had been robbed of his phone, money and shoes while trying to buy a gun, according to court testimony from the case’s lead detective, Neil Baker. Using an app to track his phone, Bui said he learned it was at the home and believed the people who robbed him lived there, though he did not research the home’s residents, Baker said at a hearing on the evidence in the case in 2021.

Bui admitted to setting the fire, only to realize the next day through news coverage that the victims were not the ones who robbed him, according to Baker. Investigators never said where Bui’s phone actually was.

In May, after a failed effort to challenge key evidence in the case, Bui pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. Sixty other charges Bui had faced, including first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson and burglary, were dropped by prosecutors, who recommended that Bui be sentenced to 60 years in prison.

If Judge Karen L. Brody rejects the proposed deal, both sides would have to either work out another deal or go to trial.

Relatives largely support the deal, not because they view it as true justice, but because they see it as the best way to resolve the criminal case nearly four years after the fire.

Beye, who is Muslim, said he hopes God will provide justice some day. But, after nearly four years, the relatives left behind are tired and want the last of the criminal cases resolved, he said.

“We just want to move forward because we’re going to have to live with this for the rest of our lives,” Beye said.

Last year, Dillon Siebert, who was 14 at the time of the fire, was sentenced to three years in juvenile detention and seven years in a state prison program for young inmates. In March, Gavin Seymour, 19, was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of second-degree murder.

Surveillance video showed three suspects wearing full face masks and dark hoodies outside the home just before the fire started, but the investigation dragged on for months without any other leads. Amid fears that the fire had been a hate crime, some Senegalese immigrants installed security cameras at their homes in case they could also be targeted.

Police did not believe the home, tucked in among many similar ones on a street in a dense subdivision, was picked at random. They tried a new and controversial strategy – asking Google to reveal which IP addresses had searched for the home’s address within 15 days of the fire. Five of them were in Colorado, and police obtained the names of those people through another search warrant, eventually identifying Bui, Seymour and Siebert as suspects.

In October, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the search of Google users’ keyword history, an approach critics have called a digital dragnet that threatens to undermine people’s privacy and their constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court cautioned it was not making a “broad proclamation” on the constitutionality of such search warrants and emphasized it was ruling on the facts of just this one case.

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