SAN DIEGO — A teenage boy who shot his father five times in the master bedroom of the family’s Scripps Ranch condominium last year, then fired another shot through the door of another bedroom, where his mother and half- brother had barricaded themselves, will be remanded to a juvenile detention facility for as much as nine years, a judge ruled Friday.
The 16-year-old defendant was tried as a juvenile and found guilty last month for the April 29, 2018, killing of 46-year-old Thanh “Sonny” Pham, as well as the attempted murder of his mother.
According to prosecutors, juvenile court sentencing guidelines dictate that the boy can be held in custody until he is 25, though he could be paroled earlier than that.
Superior Court Judge Louis R. Hanoian said the sentence for the convicted counts would have the boy facing a 67-year-to-life prison sentence had he been of age.
During the boy’s bench trial, Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb said the teen ambushed his father, using Pham’s own Glock pistol, then came “storming out of the bedroom with the gun” and began scoping the unit for his mother and half-brother, who had taken refuge inside his sibling’s bedroom. Loeb said the gun was empty after the youth fired on his father, and he had to return to the bedroom to reload so he could “continue on this rampage.”
Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge argued that the killing was committed in self-defense, following years of routine physical abuse at Pham’s hands. The juvenile testified that Pham often struck him as a form of discipline, including once just minutes before the shooting, knocking him briefly unconscious. He also said that Pham once shoved his mother out of a moving vehicle and his family members also testified that Pham was abusive with them and the boy.
Following the shooting, the boy, then 15, fled from the condo on foot before police arrived, but was arrested about 1 a.m. the following day, roughly two miles from his home, after someone spotted him on Scripps Poway Parkway near Interstate 15. He had the handgun in his waistband and dozens of rounds of ammunition in his backpack when taken into custody, according to police.
Hanoian ruled that there were true findings — the equivalent of guilty verdicts — for murder and attempted murder, as he felt the evidence did not support claims that Pham was “a violent ogre” and “a sadistic abuser” as he felt Pham had been portrayed by the defense.
During Friday’s dispositional hearing — the juvenile court equivalent of a sentencing hearing — attorneys argued over what type of custody was more appropriate to provide the boy with proper treatment and rehabilitation.
Loeb argued to have the boy placed in one of two state youth correctional facilities — either in Stockton or Camarillo — while Attridge sought to have the boy placed in a less-restrictive youth program in Otay Mesa, where his family could more easily visit him for the purposes of facilitating family therapy. Attridge also said she will file a notice of appeal on the boy’s behalf.
Hanoian ruled that the Department of Juvenile Justice’s facilities provided a more thorough program to assist the boy in terms of his mental health, educational opportunities — including college courses and career technical education — , and rehabilitation.
“We need to get (the boy) up and running. We need to have him become a productive member of society and we need to give him the training, the education, and the skills and the therapy that’s necessary,” Hanoian said.
The judge said that he did consider concerns over a lack of face-to- face family therapy with the boy housed outside of San Diego County, but said that technological means like video conferencing would allow him to undergo that therapy with family members.
The boy did not make a statement during the hearing, but Attridge said he “is very remorseful about what happened here. It has changed his family’s entire life and it has changed his life and he regrets having done anything to end his father’s life.”
She also said that upon his release, she believed “he will be somebody who will never recidivate” and will leave custody “a better person, a more mature person and a nonviolent person.”
Pham’s younger sister, Catherine Wright, said her brother was “confident, charming, funny, athletic and intelligent,” a good brother to her, a good uncle to her daughter, and their parents’ pride and joy.
Wright said the depictions of her brother as an abuser pained her greatly and the fact that he’d been killed by his own son made it “easier to tell people that he died of a heart attack.”
Just as Pham had meant everything to their dad, Wright said the defendant meant everything to her brother.
“I cannot imagine a more horrible death for Sonny to suffer. I’m haunted by thoughts of Sonny laying on the floor in pain, gutted not just by his physical wounds, but in the realization that his firstborn son, his only son, turned on him and shot him,” Wright said.
She said she was not yet able to forgive the boy, but that her brother would have wanted to have his son “to have the opportunity to heal what is broken inside of him. He would want his family to be safe and loved.”