From the start of his trial Monday, there was no question that Julio Miguel Blanco Garcia brutally stabbed Vanessa Pham, bringing a “young life to a horrific end,” as one prosecutor said.
After hearing four days of testimony and deliberating for about three hours, a Fairfax County jury convicted Blanco Garcia of first-degree murder, which could put him in prison for the rest of his life.
To win the first-degree murder conviction, jurors had to be convinced that the killing was premeditated.
As the case wrapped up Thursday, defense lawyers argued unsuccessfully that the charges should be reduced to voluntary manslaughter. Jurors also considered a lesser, second-degree murder option.
Blanco Garcia, 27, of Falls Church, admitted to stabbing Pham “a couple of times” in the chest with a knife on July 27, 2010.
The body of the 19-year-old college freshman, who graduated in 2009 from Madison High School, was found in her car near a Merrifield shopping center by police responding to what they thought was a traffic mishap. “There was an extraordinary amount of blood inside the vehicle inconsistent with the damage to the outside of the vehicle,” Fairfax County police officer Scott Neville testified earlier in the week. “We took [her] T-shirt off to reveal at least three stab wounds.”
Defense attorneys argued that Blanco Garcia was using drugs before he asked Pham for a ride from a shopping center to the hospital on the summer afternoon three years ago.
“This is not a case that is about who; this is a case about why,” defense attorney Alberto Salvado said in his opening statement earlier in the week.
Jurors on Wednesday were shown a video of Blanco Garcia’s interview with police following his December arrest, culminating days of emotional testimony, including evidence from a medical examiner showing Pham was stabbed 13 times and that cuts on her hands indicated she was trying to fight off her attacker. Two of the stab wounds proved fatal, and Medical Examiner A. Wayne Williams testified “she would have lived more than 20 seconds.”
Prosecutors seized on the brutality of the attack in closing statements Thursday.
“Stabbing her as she fought ... leaving her to bleed out. I dare say, if that is not cruel, I don’t know the definition of cruel,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Lingan told the jury of seven women and seven men.
Defense attorneys countered, “We have told you this defendant was hallucinating and fearful ... His actions were not the product of hatred. He did not know Miss Pham.”
For the majority of the trial, which has been open to photographers and broadcast coverage, Blanco Garcia sat quietly in the courtroom in a gray flannel suit.
Jurors, who started deliberations about 3 p.m. and announced their verdict about 6:15 p.m., had more than 100 pieces of evidence available to review. The case moved into a sentencing phase, with Pham’s mother taking the stand to give a victim impact statement.