A San Diego judge found a Scripps Ranch teenager guilty Tuesday of the second-degree murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother.
The 16-year-old defendant at the center of the case fired five shots at his father, Tranh "Sonny" Pham, before aiming the gun at his mother and then fleeing his family's home on April 29, 2018.
He was 15 at the time of the deadly shooting.
Judge Louis R. Hanoian did not find the teen was acting self-defense, although, during court proceedings, the defense portrayed the teen's father as highly abusive.
Hanoian said he wasn't swayed by the prosecution's portrait of Tranh Pham as an "abusive ogre."
"I’m finding that the portrayal of Sonny as an ogre of that type is contrary to the evidence in this case. I do not make such a finding," Hanoian said as he delivered his verdict.
Hours earlier, as prosecutors wrapped up their case against the teenager who they say ambushed and killed his father inside the family's Scripps Ranch home, they argued that not liking or getting along with your father isn’t a justification for murder.
Prosecutors argued Tranh Pham had lectured his son the evening of the shooting, allegedly a common occurrence in the Pham home.
As a result, the teenager developed a secret plan to ambush his father and waited for the right opportunity to kill him, Deputy District Attorney Mary Loeb said.
Tranh Pham had set up security cameras inside the family's Scripps Ranch home. Those cameras captured chilling video that showed the teenager aim the weapon at his mother and fire one round in the direction of his brother.
“He’d already shot his father five times and was going to get rid of everyone in that house,” Loeb said.
Tranh Pham died of his injuries but his wife and son were not injured.
In the end, Hanoian found the teen guilty of the attempted murder of his mother but not guilty of the attempted murder of his brother.
Despite the attempted murder charge, the teen's mother took the stand last week in defense of her son. Among her testimony, she described Tranh Pham's name-calling of her son, saying her husband called the defendant “bones,” “weakling,” and “dumb.”
Loeb said the boy apparently killed his father because he was angry about being disciplined. Among other restrictions, the father limited the amount of time his son could spend on the computer.
But, the judge said that sounded more like a father acting properly as a disciplinarian for his son.
“Raising of the voice, imposing punishment or limitations for trivial transgressions does not persuade me that Sonny Pham is an abusive ogre," the judge said.
Defense attorney Mary Ellen Attridge said the boy acted in self-defense, out of fear of another beating by the father.
In her closing statement, Attridge said the father frequently struck his son on the head for small transgressions. He used surveillance equipment to record and control his son and monitor his movements, she added.
Some of those "smacks" were captured on surveillance video and played in court. Hanoian described instances of contact between Pham and his son seen in video footage as "love pats," and not what he’d call "actual violence."
Hanoian said he didn’t believe Tranh Pham was a “sadistic abuser of his son.”
Attridge also told the judge that Tranh Pham was sexually inappropriate with his son and that the defendant didn't report anything because many victims of don't come forward in those types of cases.
Attridge claimed Tranh Pham violently hit his son in the head and knocked him unconscious just three minutes before the shooting. Her client acted in self-defense and she argued he should have been acquitted of the first and second-degree murder charges.
Hanoian said there was no evidence of physical injury on the boy's head consistent with a blow forceful enough to knock someone unconscious, and said the only injuries to his body were scratches and scrapes consistent with a fall he allegedly suffered in a canyon after he ran away from home in the hours after the shooting.
The judge said a justifiable homicide in self-defense requires the teen to have been in "imminent danger" of death or great injury.
"There was no imminent danger," in his case, Hanoian said.
The defendant testified last Thursday and said before the shooting, his father told him he was going to go into the garage and get something. The teen said he thought that meant he was going to get something he could beat him with and he panicked.
However, Hanoian said he didn’t believe that claim to be true and said Tranh Pham went to get a phone charger, not something to hurt his son with, in the minutes before the shooting.
“He had nothing in his hands when he entered into the bedroom. He was armed with nothing – nothing, whatsoever,” the judge added.
According to the Medical Examiner’s office, Pham was shot four times from close range. At the time of the shooting, the defendant was about 5-feet, 7-inches tall and 111 pounds.
The teen was tried for murder as a juvenile. Cases involving minors are usually closed to the public, but his trial was open because of the seriousness of the charges.
Pham's wife testified that her late husband “wanted to control everything” and sometimes physically abused their son, but when questioned by the prosecutor, the defendant's mother acknowledged that her son never said any of the minor injuries he suffered were inflicted by his father.
The mother also acknowledged that she never saw evidence of a beating on her son, and never took him to the hospital because of any abuse or physical injury inflicted by the father.
She confirmed that she told detectives that she saw her husband hit her son no more than three times in the boy’s life and that she never reported those incidents to police.
The defendant also testified that he played the game "Escape from Tarkov" for hours and that when his father shut off the WiFi as punishment, the teen would turn the WiFi back on without his parents knowing. The defendant said his father kept the WiFi off until his father was home from work.