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Fortuneteller, daughter killed over fortunetelling, O.C. jury told

A prosecutor says murder-trial defendant Tanya Nelson was so angry at Ha Jade Smith that she flew from North Carolina to kill her. Also stabbed to death in 2005 was Smith's daughter, Anita Vo.

February 12, 2010|By My-Thuan Tran

Four years ago, a Little Saigon fortuneteller and her daughter were found stabbed to death. Their hands and faces were covered with white paint and the killer or killers fled with credit cards, jewelry and cash.

Five weeks later, police arrested Tanya Nelson of North Carolina in the slayings of of fortuneteller Ha Jade Smith, 52, and Anita Vo, 23. Police said Nelson was caught allegedly assuming the identities of the victims and spending more than $3,000 on clothing. Police speculated that theft was the motive.

Prosecutors added another twist to the bizarre case this week: Smith and her daughter were stabbed to death because a spell did not work.

Nelson, a longtime client of Smith's, blamed the fortuneteller for a fortune gone bad and was so angered that she decided to kill her, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Sonia Balleste, who is prosecuting Nelson at the murder trial in Orange County Superior Court.

A letter found in Nelson's North Carolina home indicated that Nelson wanted Smith to change the fortune, Balleste said. Smith wrote in the letter that she could not do so, Balleste said. And Nelson felt so cheated out of her money that she decided to fly to Orange County to kill Smith.

Balleste painted Nelson as the mastermind who persuaded Phillipe Zamora to take part in the April 21, 2005, slayings.

The prosecution relied on the testimony of Zamora, who pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder and is facing a 50-year-to-life prison sentence.

Zamora testified that Nelson ordered him to stab Smith and that he panicked after seeing Nelson attack Vo.

Defense attorney Ken Reed argued in closing statements Thursday that Zamora acted alone and that he lied repeatedly throughout his testimony. . Reed said that Zamora testified against Nelson to avoid harsher punishment.

"Zamora has big cracks in his story," Reed told the jury in his closing statement Thursday. "And his story is their case."

Reed argued that no DNA evidence placed Nelson at the victims' Westminster home the day of the killings. Zamora's DNA was on the handles of the two kitchen knives used in the stabbings, Reed said.

Balleste argued in her rebuttal that Nelson wore two pairs of gloves during the killings, citing Zamora's testimony.

"He [Zamora] is not on trial," Balleste told the jury. "She is."

If convicted, Nelson could face the death penalty.

Smith's older sister, Nicky Phan Ngo of Vancouver, B.C., teared up several times in the courtroom Thursday as she listened to the attorneys.

"We want to see justice served," Ngo said.

Ngo said it has been painful to sit in court several feet from the woman on trial for her sister's slaying.

"I feel like every day is the same," she said. "It's like the day when I got that horrible news."

mythuan.tran@latimes.com

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