A Texas man was sentenced to spend 55 years in prison on Thursday for brutally murdering his wife in 2015.
Itani Losangel Milleni, 52, formerly known as Trang Vu, was charged with the murder of 48-year-old Tuyet Ngoc Tran in 2019, only after he attempted to cash in on his wife’s life insurance policy.
Tran was found bludgeoned to death in her own beauty school in Houston’s Chinatown in July 2015. The scene suggested a robbery, however, police would soon come to believe the robbery was staged because most of the victim’s cash and credit cards were untouched.
“When officers got there, they noted that it looked like a poorly-staged robbery,” Houston area prosecutor Lauren Byrne previously told Chron.com. “Phones, credit cards were still on her and her car was driven around the block and abandoned.”
Milleni, as it turned out, was long a suspect in the case – though he changed his name just months after his wife’s death, left the Houston area to work as a truck driver, and relinquished parental rights to the couple’s children. It was the defendant’s relationship with his children that would ultimately prove pivotal in the case.
In 2017, Milleni moved to collect Tran’s $275,000 life insurance policy – rather than letting the benefits go to their children. Reliastar Life Insurance Company, based in Minnesota, tried to stop him from obtaining those benefits, a 2017 federal lawsuit notes, because he was still considered a suspect in Tran’s murder.
That effort to keep the killer from profiting off his crime turned into an insurance fraud case, and then investigators in that case slowly pieced together an altogether unflattering and incongruent picture of Milleni.
In the months immediately preceding the murder, Tran had filed for divorce from her husband of 13 years. There was an ongoing custody battle between the husband and wife – over the children Milleni quickly abandoned, along with his real name, just after she was dead. And there was, crucially, a history of domestic violence.
On the day Tran died, Milleni met with a Texas Department of Family Protective Services caseworker as the first of two scheduled meetings in order to determine who would retain custody of the children. The state had previously removed the children from the home due to family violence. The second meeting would have been with Tran, the next day, but, of course, she never made it.
According to Chron.com, Harris County prosecutors would eventually use the evidence uncovered in the federal case to build their murder case against Milleni.
In one filing in that federal case, lawyers for Milleni’s children said the soon-to-be absent father told the caseworker “that his children would be better off in foster care than with their mother because she only had a fifth-grade education and only he could provide his children with the proper educational training.”
The children are now teenagers and have been in foster care all this time.
In another filing in the federal case, Milleni blamed the murder of his wife on a Black man who silently walked in and out of the salon on the day in question. That same night, Milleni claimed, he left to go buy his wife flowers and saw the same man in the parking lot.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen noted in one order that those would-be flowers were never even purchased.
Milleni was indicted in April 2019 and arrested that same month while unloading his 18-wheeler at a truck stop in Indiana.
In June of this year, a mistrial was declared – wiping out nearly two weeks of testimony – after jurors were subjected to a “Jury Appreciation Week” speech that cast their role as harbingers of justice for victims and their families, according to the Houston Chronicle. That is not, however, the role of jurors, who are empaneled to deliver impartial justice favoring no particular side.
Milleni was tried again in September 2022. The trial only went for six days this time, according to Houston area NBC affiliate KPRC. Jurors spent roughly 25 minutes deliberating before finding him guilty.
On Wednesday, Milleni provided a letter to the court that accepted responsibility for Tran’s death, the Chronicle reported.
“He thought he got away with murder,” Harris County Assistant District Attorney Stephany Abner said in comments reported by KPRC. “We’re happy that the victim and her family finally got justice because it was a long time coming.”
[Images via Harris County District Attorney’s Office]
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