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SAN JOSE — On what should have been a day of smooth sailing, Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff on Tuesday saw his death penalty case pitch about in stormy seas. His star witness, jailhouse informant Ty Pham, sputtered his way through parts of the direct exam. And before Pham even took the stand, a witness who was called to corroborate Pham’s account instead testified that Pham had admitted falsely implicating one of the defendants in order to win a deal. Liroff called Christopher Zahedi on Tuesday morning to testify against fellow Asian Boyz gangsters Pov Touch and Van Hang Heang. Touch and Heang are accused of killing 64-year-old San Jose resident Dong Dinh while his son was testifying against gang members in a Los Angeles murder trial. Liroff patiently took Zahedi, who was often in tears, through a reprise of his grand jury testimony. And Zahedi confirmed that, days after the murder, alleged triggerman Heang said during a basketball game that he had traveled to San Jose to “take care of business.” But on cross-examination, Zahedi backed away from his earlier claim that Touch also took part in the murder. Then he testified that prosecution linchpin Pham — who claims to have elicited confessions from Heang and Touch — admitted he was implicating Touch to get out from under a Three Strikes conviction. Under questioning by John Breidenthal, the alternate public defender representing Touch, Zahedi said he and Pham shared a prison cell last year. “Didn’t Ty Pham tell you Widget” — Touch’s street name — “was not involved with the murder of Dong Dinh?” “Yeah, he did,” Zahedi said. “He said he didn’t care, he was still going to help the prosecution of Widget?” Breidenthal asked. “Yeah,” answered Zahedi, adding that Pham had given him portions of his grand jury testimony to read. “Didn’t he want you to go tell somebody else information about the case, and he asked you not to tell where you got it?” Breidenthal asked. “Yeah, he did,” Zahedi said. Clearly surprised, Liroff leaped up for re-direct. “Didn’t Sgt. Ponte and I come and visit you in that jail?” Liroff asked Zahedi, referring to San Jose Police Sgt. Mike Ponte, who has sat at the prosecution table throughout the trial. “Yes, you did,” Zahedi said. “Didn’t Ponte ask if you said anything to this guy Pham?” Liroff pressed, before asking: “Where did he show you the transcripts?” “The second time I was on the yard,” Zahedi said. “Chris, isn’t it true that no one would take transcripts out on the yard?” Liroff asked. “Have you ever told this to Ponte, about this guy named Pham?” “No,” Zahedi responded. “Chris, what’s going on?” Liroff asked. “Nothing,” Zahedi said. “You said you had a ‘special relationship’ with Widget,” Liroff said. “Tell me about this relationship.” “I don’t know what you want to know,” Zahedi said. Liroff continued to shoot questions at Zahedi, who, though barely audible for most of his testimony, began firing back in a loud voice: “I can’t remember right now — shit!” PHAM’S TESTIMONY Breidenthal and John Vaughn, the public defender representing Heang, have made it clear they plan an all-out attack on Pham’s credibility. They’ll seek to exploit statements with investigators in which he offered to swap his testimony for help with his Three Strikes sentence. Liroff worked to blunt that attack shortly after Pham took the stand Tuesday afternoon. First, he established that Pham isn’t eligible for parole until 2026. “Do you have any expectation you will be released any time sooner?” “No,” Pham replied. Liroff then had Pham concede that he had asked for a deal on his third strike. “Did we make a deal about the third strike?” “No.” “Did I tell you we would not in any way agree to remove your third strike?” “Yes.” But Pham flubbed his next answer. “Did my office agree to do some things for you?” Pham paused, then said, “No.” Liroff quickly had Pham acknowledge that, as others had already testified, the DA’s office had agreed to protect Pham and his family, move him to a different prison and write a letter to parole authorities. Pham also had some difficulty explaining just how the jailhouse confession came out. “There’s a lot of different people who tell me different things, but I come to a conclusion –” he began, before Liroff interrupted with another question. Then Liroff tried to establish what language was being spoken during that crucial conversation. Pham, though born in Cambodia, has said he isn’t fluent in Cambodian. Heang and Touch are. “Did you talk to Widget in Cambodian?” Liroff asked. Yes, said Pham, but “sometimes when he talk, I could not understand what he said.”

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