Vietnam stepmum of accused Kim Jong Nam assassin 'happy' over new sentence

Ms Nguyen Thi Vy, stepmother of Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong, watches the news from Malaysia of the verdict on a television at her house in Nam Dinh, Hanoi, on April 1, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

NAM DINH, VIETNAM (AFP) - The stepmother of a Vietnamese woman accused of killing the half brother of North Korea's leader said on Monday (April 1) that she was delighted her stepdaughter escaped the death sentence, and urged her to "hang on" until her expected release in May.

Doan Thi Huong dodged the death penalty on Monday after a Malaysian judge reduced her murder charge to causing injury by dangerous means over the killing of Mr Kim Jong Nam with a nerve agent in 2017.

Her lawyers had requested the charges against her be dropped altogether after her Indonesian co-accused Siti Aisyah was suddenly released last month, raising her family's hopes Huong might also come home.

"We wanted her to be freed immediately," her stepmother Nguyen Thi Vy said in her rice farming village in northern Vietnam on Monday.

"The family is happy enough with her escaping death penalty," she added after lighting incense to thank ancestors for sparing her stepdaughter from death.

Huong's new sentence is three years and four months in jail, which includes time served since her arrest in February 2017.

Her lawyer said that after sentence reductions, she would most likely be released in early May.

Ms Vy urged Huong to stay strong until then.

"To anyone meeting her, please tell her to try to hang on, just one more month," she said.

Huong smiled broadly, following her court appearance attended by her father.

Ms Vy broke out in a wide grin upon seeing smartphone photos of her smiling stepdaughter, whose mental state had deteriorated in detention, according to her lawyers.

Huong underwent a psychiatric assessment last month after her initial bid to be released was rejected.

Huong and Ms Siti Aisyah insisted they were tricked into participating in the brazen attack in a busy Kuala Lumpur airport on the premise that it was for a TV prank show.

A former hair salon worker, 30-year-old Huong left home after high school to study pharmacology and accounting in Hanoi.

With her funky hairstyles and cutting-edge fashion, she raised eyebrows back in her conservative hometown in northern Nam Dinh province.

Soon after the murder, unverified clips of her on "Vietnam Idol" surfaced, while others showed her kissing a famous social media prankster on a popular YouTube channel.

Her family echoed her pleas of innocence and said they were ready for her to come home.

"I just want her to get married to someone who loves her; life will be easier with a husband and kids around for her," Ms Vy said.

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