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Man convicted after luring unrequited romantic interest to garage to murder her with 2-foot long ice ax

Jurors convicted Daniel Gunnarsson of murdering Katie Pham. (Images: Kern County District Attorney's Office)

Jurors convicted Daniel Gunnarsson of murdering Katie Pham. (Images: Kern County District Attorney’s Office)

When hundreds of people showed up last year to a vigil for murder victim Katie Pham, her father, Tom Pham, said, “Our only consolation would be for justice to be served so that Katie could rest easy and Ridgecrest as a community could rest easy with her,” according to The Daily Independent.

They got that justice on Wednesday.

Jurors in Kern County, California, convicted Daniel Gunnarsson, 23, of murder in the first degree and mutilating a corpse.

As previously reported, Pham’s friends said the defendant displayed hostile behavior toward the victim amid their brief relationship. In one example, he picked Pham up from Las Vegas several days before the murder and drove erratically and at high speeds because she was on the phone and not paying attention to him, according to one of the friends in a KGET report.

This friend also claimed to overhear Gunnarsson insult Pham over the phone when she did not want to go to his home.

Pham did not return his feelings. Gunnarsson soured.

“Gunnarsson had been in a dating relationship with the victim, Katie Pham, for the month preceding the murder,” prosecutors said. “The evening before the murder, Gunnarsson displayed animosity towards Pham and expressed what his friends believed to be suicidal behavior. The following morning, Gunnarsson went to his stepfather’s residence in Ridgecrest and discussed his failing relationship with Pham.”

He called the victim a “dumb b—-,” prosecutor Samantha Allen said, according to KGET.

In May 2021, Gunnarsson called Pham, apologized and asked to pick her up. She agreed, and he picked her up from her apartment and took her back to his stepfather’s residence in Kern County, authorities said.

There, Gunnarsson led her to the RV garage.

“Shortly thereafter, painters at the residence heard a female screaming, followed by shuffling of items,” they wrote.

Investigators determined that Gunnarsson put on gloves and used a 24-inch ice ax to hit her 10 times in the head, neck, and face. After that, he touched “her remains in a sexual manner.” He took off some of her clothes during this process.

Those painters opened the garage about an hour after hearing the noises to continue their work. They found Gunnarsson covered in blood.

His pants were “saturated” with blood, which covered his hands and neck, authorities said in a KGET report.

Pham lay face down on a mattress topper.

According to authorities, Gunnarsson acted odd when speaking to detectives but said he was “putting on an act.”

More Law&Crime coverage: Man who sent chilling text to ex-girlfriend hours before executing victim in her sleep pleads to murder

Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe reportedly suggested her client did not do it. She told jurors her client did nothing sexual to Pham. Regarding the gloves at the scene, she argued that an emergency worker could have been using these when treating Pham.

Her client’s DNA did not turn up on the ax handle, a paint roller, or other items from the scene. Though Gunnarsson had blood on him, there’s no evidence regarding when he entered the garage. She suggested that her client may have entered after hearing screams and discovered the body. And even if he did kill Pham, it did not rise to the level of first-degree murder, she argued.

Gunnarsson spoke of badly injuring Pham by using a “pick,” though he did admit to killing her, his cellmate testified.

Allen scoffed at the idea that someone else had killed Pham. She called the argument “absurd.”

“He’s in there still doing things when he’s caught,” she said.

Allen reportedly told jurors she did not have to prove Gunnarsson was in his right state of mind. The law did not require it. Instead, she had to prove he had willful, premeditated intent to kill Pham. She also said that no evidence showed Pham provoked Gunnarsson.

“This conduct was despicable, even to prosecutors well versed in homicide crimes,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said on Wednesday in a statement after the verdict. “Inexplicable acts of violence must be met with appropriate penalty, including a life sentence, to provide justice and promote public safety.”

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