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June 21, 2012

Woman admits last pre-Katrina killing

NEW ORLEANS (UPI) -- A 28-year-old woman admitted killing a well-known New Orleans restaurant owner in the last known homicide in the city before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Ashleigh Thornton pleaded guilty to manslaughter Tuesday in a deal that gets her a 30-year sentence, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported. She could have received a life sentence if she had been convicted of second-degree murder.

Joe Wongchoy Jr. was shot early in the morning of Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, in a bar he owned. He also owned two restaurants, Polynesian Joe's and Jilly Joe's, and Mama Rosa's pizzeria, his family said.

An employee told police he saw a woman named Ashleigh leaving the bar when he arrived early to clean up. Police in Jefferson Parish said they found Wongchoy's checkbook and a handgun in Thornton's possession when she was stopped in Jefferson Parish later the same day.

The case might have been closed quickly except that New Orleans was ordered evacuated later that Saturday, two days before Katrina made landfall. Wongchoy's body remained in the morgue, and the investigation only resumed months later.

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