More than two years after the slayings of a father and his two sons in their south Sacramento home, David Nguyen, 26, and Elijah Johnson, 24, were found guilty of murder and robbery in Sacramento County Superior Court on Friday.
Nguyen and Johnson now both face multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The jury began deliberating Oct. 3 and many members were visibly upset as the clerk read the verdict. At least three jury members cried, but all declined to comment. Johnson looked down as the decision was read, but both he and Nguyen remained stoic.
The killings were part of a home invasion robbery in 2016. Nguyen, a marijuana dealer, planned to steal $30,000 in cash from the home of his partner, Dong Le. He enlisted the help of Johnson, his girlfriend Amanda Tucker and a second woman, Tayler Renee Coately.
Within minutes of entering the Le home, Nguyen had fatally shot Le and his 21-year-old brother as they slept in their beds. Nguyen shot their father, Thanh Le, three times in the head as he attempted to flee from the house. Le’s mother escaped by hiding behind a car.
Johnson was armed with a gun provided by Nguyen, but did not fire shots, according to prosecutors.
Johnson took the witness stand in his own defense.
“I was terrified. This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Johnson testified in September. “I was terrified that if I tried to help them that I’d be the next victim. … It was the most belligerent, terrifying thing in my whole life. I now just witnessed three men die. I had no words for it. I was scared for my own life. I pray for them. This family did not deserve this.”
The case took on political significance after California legislators recently passed SB 1437, which will curtail prosecutors ability to charge accomplices like Johnson with felony murder. When it goes into effect in January, it will mandate a person can be convicted of felony murder only if they directly assisted with the homicide or if they were “a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.”
Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Hightower said his office didn’t believe that SB 1437 would have made a difference in Johnson’s charges because of his participation in the crime.
Jamila Land, a community activist who allowed Johnson to live with her when he was a homeless teenager, argued that his lack of criminal record and the fact that he didn’t pull the trigger should have made a difference.
“I feel robbed,” she said Friday as she left the courtroom.
Tucker, 21, and Coately, 17, both took plea deals and are serving seven-year prison sentences for robbery.
Johnson and Nguyen will return to court Monday for a sentencing hearing to be set.