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Tai Mai, 9, told of the pain of losing his brother, Bang Mai, who was stabbed during a brawl in South Boston in 2004.
Tai Mai, 9, told of the pain of losing his brother, Bang Mai, who was stabbed during a brawl in South Boston in 2004. (Janet Knott/ Globe Staff)

Teen gets 5-year sentence in S. Boston slaying

With trembling hands and a face crumpled by pain, a 9-year-old Medford boy yesterday fought back tears as he spoke of the void that opened in his life when his older brother, Bang Mai, 16, was stabbed to death during a melee in a South Boston housing development last year.

''I miss having him pick me up from school and I wonder who will help me with my homework," Tai Mai told Boston Juvenile Court Judge Terry Craven yesterday as she prepared to sentence Bang Mai's admitted killer. ''I think about him a lot. . . . I am hurt and mad that my brother passed away. I wish he could come back and see me now."

Tai Mai, his older brother Phu, and their mother, Nhi Mai, urged Craven to give Keith E. Gillespie a long prison sentence for killing their brother and son, a stabbing that took place as groups of Asian and white youths brawled in the Mary Ellen McCormack development on July 11, 2004.

Craven, rejecting suggestions from the defense and prosecutor, sentenced Gillespie to five years and one day in state prison. Under that sentence, Gillespie will not be eligible for parole and will, with credit for 500 days in custody awaiting trial, be released from prison in about 3 1/2 years.

''This city is besieged with adolescents and young adults who somehow believe that all differences in race, religion, and opinion can only be settled by senseless acts of violence," Craven said. ''This court will punish individuals who are found guilty of these senseless and violent acts. . . . This is a tragedy for two mothers. However, Mrs. Mai has no hope of seeing her son prosper and reach adulthood."

Gillespie, whose family had insisted he was innocent, admitted in September, halfway through his manslaughter trial, that he had stabbed Mai. Mai was unarmed and both Mai and Gillespie were then 16 years old, said Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Fredette.

Mai's death was the capstone to weeks of simmering tensions between Asian and white youths in South Boston, a feud that was supposed to be resolved by a fistfight between one Asian and one white youth on the Veterans Park basketball court that day. But when the white youth beat two Asians, Mai stepped in, and a brawl ensued, authorities said. Others had pocket knives, but only Gillespie had a knife capable of leaving a 7-inch ''wound track," Fredette said.

Yesterday, Gillespie, a burly 18-year-old, wore a black rosary around his neck and had a wispy goatee on his face as he stood up in court.

''I just want to apologize for my actions," Gillespie said as his mother, Leslie, and other relatives listened. Gillespie spoke after the Mai family delivered victim impact statements. ''My father passed away while I was in jail. It hurt me a lot. I'm sorry. But there's nothing I can do."

Gillespie's attorney, Jeffrey T. Karp, asked for a three-year sentence, while Fredette argued Gillespie should be imprisoned for as long as 10 years because of the deep wound Mai suffered and because Gillespie, at times, allegedly bragged about having killed the Medford teen.

Bang Mai grew up in Boston but had moved to Medford with his family and at the time of his death was participating in Job Corps, a federal residential training program in Western Massachusetts. He was home for the weekend when he joined other Asians in South Boston.

Phu Mai, 16, could not speak for himself at court yesterday and let Fredette read his victim impact statement. The statement said Phu Mai has isolated himself, is unable to concentrate in school, and fears someone else will die violently. ''Looking in the eyes of the person who killed Bang, it gives me great anger and sorrow," the statement said.

Nhi Mai wept as she spoke of her son. ''I'm really heartbroken when I see Bang's two little brothers because at night, they would cry because they miss Bang," she said. ''Not having him in my life is the hardest thing I have to go through."

Tai Mai ended his speech by saying, ''Every night I would pray for my brother with my mom. I want to say how much I love him and no one will take his place."

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