Jury recommends death penalty for woman convicted of killing SoCalfortuneteller and daughter

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jury recommends death in fortuneteller killings

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A Southern California jury recommended the death penalty Tuesday for a North Carolina woman convicted of murdering a Vietnamese fortuneteller and her 23-year-old daughter.

The same Orange County panel convicted Tanya Nelson of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., last month of masterminding the murders of fortuneteller Ha “Jade” Smith and Anito Vo in 2005.

“I think justice has been served,” Smith’s sister, Nicky Pham, said of the jury’s recommendation. “‘My sister can rest in peace now.”

Smith’s other sister, Hong Kempf, said she felt the panel’s recommendation was fair.

“You give and you get,” Kempf said.

Nelson hired Smith to get her ex-lover back. But when the soothsayer told her to accept reality, she became upset and plotted to drive across the country to kill her, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Smith and her daughter were stabbed as many as 10 times and their faces and hands were covered in white paint, which may have been an attempt to cover up evidence.

Nelson lured her accomplice, Phillipe Zamora, 55, into the murder scheme by promising to fix him up with gay sex partners, prosecutors said.

Zamora, a key witness against Nelson, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder and faces 50 years to life in prison.

Nelson, who also uses the name Phuong Thao Nguyen and used to live in Orange County, was also convicted of robbery for stealing Smith’s expensive jewelry and assuming her identity after the killings to buy $3,000 in clothing and plane tickets for a family vacation in Southern California.

She traveled from North Carolina to Westminster intending to murder Smith, returned home and was arrested when she came back to Orange County on a family vacation, prosecutors said. When she was arrested, she had Smith’s stolen credit cards, identification cards and designer luggage.

Smith, known as Miss Ha in the local Vietnamese community, did card and palm readings and had clients across the country. She was famous among Vietnamese-Americans for wearing expensive jewelry and was considered a skilled fortuneteller.

Nelson will be sentenced on March 26.

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