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Murderer sentenced to 26 years to life

By MARY SCHLEY

Published: September 7, 2012

SUNNY NGUYEN, the 28-year-old Seaside resident who stabbed and beat his ex-girlfriend’s mother to death in her 17 Mile Drive home on Nov. 21, 2010, while his young children were in another room, was sentenced last week by Monterey County Superior Court Judge Mark Hook to 26 years to life.

County prosecutor Gary Thelander said Hood addressed Nguyen, who had claimed the murder was a crime of passion, at the Aug. 30 sentencing, saying, “[You] went through the kitchen and looked through every drawer, passing knife after knife, until you found the biggest, most lethal knife you could to execute the victim.”

The sentencing followed a jury’s July 31 conviction of Nguyen for the first-degree, premeditated murder of 46-year-old Judith Salazar, grandmother of his two children. Police discovered Salazar dead on the floor of her home, and Nguyen lying nearby with wounds of his own, after a cab driver reported the man had not emerged from the house to pay his fare.

“Nguyen took a cab to Salazar’s home on 17 Mile Drive in Pacific Grove and killed her with a large kitchen knife after having unsuccessfully attempted to beat her to death with a heavy sauce pan,” Thelander reported.

During the trial, it was reported a family member had told Nguyen to stay away from the woman’s house, but he went anyway, and Salazar let him inside. In court testimony, Nguyen admitted that when they began arguing, she asked him to leave, and when he was locked out, he became enraged and found a way back in.

Nguyen’s two small children — an 8-month-old boy and a 2-year-old girl — were in the house at the time of the attack but were in another room and remained unharmed. Salazar suffered “multiple blunt force trauma injuries to her head, broken ribs and multiple stab wounds.” A forensic pathologist testified she had died either from a stab wound to the heart or lacerations to her neck.

Nguyen was flown by helicopter to a trauma center for treatment of his stab wounds and lacerations, but was later moved to Monterey County Jail, where he has remained in custody.

At the Aug. 30 sentencing, Thelander said, Salazar’s brother-in-law told the court, “The loss is to so many, and the blame goes to a man she believed, regardless of circumstances, would protect his own young family. But he brutally took, in his children’s presence, the future of their grandmother; with that same cruel unforgivable act, he threw away his fatherhood.”


Remorse = responsibility

Thelander also reported Jesse Roger, the victim’s ex-husband, said her teaching career had 20 years to go, telling the court, “Think of all the children she can no longer help. Sunny has changed the life of thousands of people by his acts.”

Defense attorney Richard Rosen read into the record Nguyen’s letter claiming he feels remorse for the murder, but Thelander said, “The judge responded that being remorseful is linked to taking responsibility,” and “expressed directly to Nguyen that it was difficult to believe his claims of remorse after listening to his ‘well prepared and well rehearsed testimony’ designed to convince the jury that the act was done in the heat of passion without the intent, reflection or premeditation required to support a murder conviction.”

But the court found Nguyen’s testimony “was not credible, citing in particular his claim that he picked up a pot and a knife at the same time.”

That claim was inconsistent with the physical evidence, as well as common sense, according to Thelander, and Hood was “persuaded that when Nguyen was unable to kill the victim with the pot, he went back to the kitchen to switch weapons.”

Nguyen will be assigned to a state prison by the department of corrections.