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Fingerprint cracks 11-year-old West Valley murder case, police say

WEST VALLEY CITY — A bloody fingerprint that sat in a database for a decade without being identified has now led to the arrest of a cold case murder suspect in West Valley City.

Police announced Thursday the arrest of Tien Truong Nguyen, 37, of West Valley City, in the connection with the 2007 killing of a pool hall owner.

On Jan. 10, 2007, the body of Tri Xuan Phan, 36, was found face up in a pool of blood inside the business he owned, Vui Vui Billiards, 1839 W. 3500 South. Police say Phan was cleaning and getting ready to close for the evening when he was beaten and stabbed to death with "multiple weapons." Several teeth, nearly an entire set, were found near his body, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Phan's vehicle was still running in the parking lot when it was found and the keys to the business were still inside the lock of the front door, according to court documents. Police say there was no sign of forced entry and nothing was missing from the pool hall.

Investigators were able to lift several fingerprints from the crime scene and took samples of blood. Several items of furniture were seized for evidence. Also seized in the investigation was a plastic bat found on the floor and clothing that was found scattered throughout the building.

Despite dozens of interviews and a "full court press" investigation, the case went cold, said West Valley Deputy Police Chief Matt Elson.

"But (it was) not out of our minds," he said.

Detective David Greco recently started looking at the case again and ordered new tests on some of the evidence.

The big break in the case came in April 2016 when a fingerprint found in the victim's blood was tested again, and this time a match was made.

Up until 2015, Nguyen had no criminal history outside of traffic tickets. But in 2015, he was arrested in an aggravated assault investigation. Nguyen went into Valley Bowling, 3951 W. 5400 South, and became upset when he was told the bowling alley was closed for a private party, according to Unified police.

Nguyen is accused of leaving the business and returning a short time later with a sword.

Nguyen's friends grabbed him and led him back out before anyone was hurt. But patrons of the bowling alley called police.

After his fingerprint was entered into a database from that arrest, and after the database with that information was updated in Utah, a match was made, according to Greco.

"It was the victim's blood that our suspect's fingerprint was in," the detective said.

Nguyen was not on investigators' radar in 2007. Elson said in 2016, detectives had to essentially "re-investigate the whole case from scratch." After tracking down and re-interviewing witnesses and going through evidence, including dozens of documents, Nguyen was called in for an interview on Thursday.

He eventually told police that there was an altercation at the billiards hall that night, and he later went back to try and clean up the scene and hide evidence, Greco said.

Nguyen was arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of murder and obstruction of justice.

Police did not say what they believe prompted the fight that led to the killing.

Greco said Phan has a sister who lives out of state. He was still trying to contact her Thursday to give her the good news.