Julio Blanco Garcia, the 28-year-old Falls Church man convicted in August of the premeditated first-degree murder of 19-year-old art student Vanessa Pham in 2010, was sentenced to 49 years in prison Friday.
Members of Pham’s family were present, and one female relative ran out of the courtroom crying as prosecutor Casey Lingan described some details of Pham’s murder.
“No murder is a good murder,” Lingan said. “But certainly some are worse than others. This is such a case.”
Lingan called Pham’s murder “senseless” and said “in her innocence, Vanessa Pham offered the defendant and his 1-year-old child a ride. He then took not only her innocence, but her life. She fought to the end, but was not strong enough to survive.”
On June 27, 2010, Pham, of Falls Church, was last seen alive outside of Fairfax Plaza Shopping Center minutes before her white Toyota Scion was found in a nearby ditch at the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Williams Drive. Pham had been repeatedly stabbed and was determined to have been murdered, police said. Police later discovered surveillance video showing that Pham had been at Fairfax Plaza Shopping Center only 10 minutes before her body was discovered.
It was revealed during trial that Blanco-Garcia was high on PCP and was with his 1-year-old daughter when he approached Pham that day, asking for a ride to a nearby hospital.
He said he had been hallucinating and was paranoid, and that when Pham took a wrong turn on the way to the hospital he instinctively and mistakenly thought he and his daughter were in danger. He then admitted to pulling a large butcher knife from his backpack and stabbing her repeatedly.
During trial, a medical examiner testified that Pham suffered 13 stab wounds, including two in the chest that caused her death. The examiner said Pham likely would not have died immediately from those wounds and that she likely tried to fight off her attacker for about half-a-minute before dying, sustaining defensive wounds on her hands.
“I’m not a bad guy,” Blanco Garcia said on a police video recorded after his arrest. “I was just so high that time ... I asked for a ride to the hospital and I grabbed a knife...I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to. ...God is not going to forgive what I did.”
During Friday’s sentencing, Lingan said although Blanco-Garcia “tried to transfer blame for the murder on the voluntary ingestion of PCP,” and claimed the drug distorted his memory of the actual events, he nonetheless remembered “exactly what he had been wearing that day.” Lingan added that “what gets lost in these cases is not so much the 19 years that were taken away, but the many years of the future that were taken…Vanessa Pham’s family will never see her future blossom, or know what flowers she would want to choose for her wedding.” Pointing across the room at Blanco-Garcia, Lingan concluded, “These are moments lost forever due to his greed, his malice and his evil.”
Earlier during the sentencing, defense attorneys painted a softer picture of Blanco-Garcia, describing him as a model prisoner who reads the Bible, considers himself a Christian, and earned his high school equivalency degree while in jail. “This murder was not motivated by greed, or motivation to rob or motivation to rape,” said defense attorney Albert Salvado. “PCP certainly played a role in this.”
It was also revealed during sentencing that Blanco-Garcia grew up in Guatemala and was brought to the United States by his mother in 2002 at the age of 17. According to immigration officials, Blanco-Garcia is in the U.S. illegally.
Just prior to the judgment by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush, Blanco was led out into the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies. Wearing a green prison jumpsuit, his hair longer and far more disheveled than during his trial, Blanco-Garcia spoke on his own behalf.
“I am deeply sorry for what I did,” he said. “And I hope my punishment will help in the grieving process.”
Salvados said an appeal is not out of the question. “It is possible,” he said. “We will first need to converse with our client. Ultimately it is his choice.”