A 23-year-old man was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder for killing a stranger in Stanton in what prosecutors said was an attempt to elevate his standing in a gang.
Daniel Perez Munoz of Garden Grove was convicted of the Jan. 11, 2014, stabbing death of 52-year-old Phuong “Bob” Huynh. Jurors, who began deliberating late Thursday and reached a verdict this morning, also found true a sentencing enhancement of personal use of a knife.
Munoz, who is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 7, faces up to 26 years to life in prison.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray told jurors in his opening statement that Huynh “was a working man, a long-haul truck driver, and he had a family and had been with his significant other for 17 years.”
The couple “had a child together and children from previous relationships. He had the misfortune of meeting this guy, who’s a ‘little bit’ bigger,” the prosecutor said, noting that Huynh was 5-foot-6 and about 130 pounds while the defendant is 6-foot-1 and about 289 pounds.
The victim “was killed for no other reason other than this defendant wanted to show he was a bad-ass gang member — that’s it,” Murray said. “He wanted respect. He wanted street cred.”
Huynh had gone to a Walmart store to buy beer and then to a liquor store, perhaps to buy lottery tickets, when he was confronted by the defendant, the prosecutor said.
Munoz was hanging around with friends at “The Wall,” an area at the West Creek Apartments where the group would smoke marijuana and drink alcohol, Murray said. Munoz, who was drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, showed up about 6 p.m. and shortly after that spotted the victim, Murray said.
“He does something in gang parlance that’s called a ‘hit-up,”‘ Murray said. “It’s a challenge. They say, ‘Where you from?’ That’s what he does to Bob. He hits him up and he immediately stabs him.”
Huynh was stabbed in the throat and chest and quickly bled to death, Murray said.
A witness — David Benitez — ran to the defendant and punched him for “assaulting this man in front of their children,” Murray said.
Munoz dashed back to his friends, complaining about Benitez and vowing “to get revenge,” Murray said.
“That’s what was on his mind after murdering the victim,” the prosecutor said.
Police never recovered the murder weapon, a knife with the Playboy logo on it, but a picture of a similar knife was posted on Munoz’s Facebook page and crime lab experts were able to determine the fingerprints on the hand in the image holding the knife matched the defendant’s, Murray said.
Munoz also called a friend after the killing saying he wanted to “tune up” Benitez, Murray said. The defendant was also angry with another friend for failing to “back him up” after Benitez punched him, the prosecutor said.
Munoz told detectives multiple versions of what happened prior to the stabbing, Murray said, calling the defendant “a pretty accomplished liar” with a penchant for elaborate detail.
Ultimately, Munoz claimed he was drunk and went along with a transient’s idea to mug the victim, but insisted he did not stab Huynh, Murray said.
Munoz’s attorney, Kelly Rozek, told jurors her client killed Huynh “because he believed his life was in danger.”
Munoz was the target of a “gang hit-up” just before he met with his friends and Huynh was attacked, according to Rozek, who said her client walked away from the confrontation.
Munoz, who appeared drunk to his friends that night and whose vision is impaired, saw someone who looked like the gang member he encountered earlier and thought he was “mad dogging” him, Rozek said, referring to gang parlance for a dirty look.
The defendant “thinks Bob Huynh is reaching for something,” Rozek said. “He thinks he’s a gang member.”
When the defendant later realized what had happened, he “sobbed” heavily as he asked a friend for a ride, and another friend had to further explain what had happened, Rozek said.
Psychologist Kara Cross testified that the defendant has an “impairment” on the left side of his brain that makes him vulnerable to poor judgment, Rozek said.
–City News Service