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SAN JOSE — Jurors in a Santa Clara death penalty case that largely rests on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch listened raptly Wednesday as each side played audiotapes of the informant at work. Jurors stole glances at Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff as star witness Ty Pham was heard demanding a deal in exchange for testifying against defendants Pov Touch and Van Hang Heang. The two are accused of killing 64-year-old Dong Dinh while his son was testifying against Asian Boyz gang members on trial in Los Angeles. Defense lawyers paint Pham as a serial snitch willing to say anything to win sentence reductions, suggesting prosecutors may have a secret deal to reward him after the trial. They started the cross-examination by rolling a tape in which a Los Angeles prosecutor was talking to Pham, just days before his grand jury testimony in San Jose, about efforts to reduce his Three Strikes prison sentence. L.A. Deputy DA Gregory Dohi told Pham that he and Liroff were discussing the best way to do that, and suggested a letter from the Board of Prison Terms to the sentencing judge might do the trick. “I don’t have that deal yet,” Dohi cautioned on the tape. “But I will work to get it for you. Lane Liroff in San Jose will work to get it for you.” Moments later, Dohi reiterated: “Lane Liroff and I are trying to find some way to do something about your sentence.” Pham then pointed out that he had helped police and prosecutors with numerous gang cases, and he had never killed anyone. “You are in the right,” Dohi soothed. “The law is screwed up. I understand what you want — it makes perfect sense to me.” In his direct examination, which began Tuesday and continued Wednesday, Liroff tried to blunt the attack by having Pham explain that his effort to win a sentence reduction wasn’t successful. Instead, Pham testified, the DA’s office has only agreed to write a letter to the parole board, move him to a different prison and take steps to safeguard Pham and his family. On Wednesday morning, Liroff played two tapes so jurors could hear Pham more fully describe the alleged jailhouse confession at the heart of the prosecution’s case. Pham testified about it for more than three hours Tuesday, but he was walked through that testimony, giving mostly “yeah” answers to Liroff’s detailed questions. Liroff also tried to clear up Pham’s account of how he had coaxed the confession out of Heang, the alleged triggerman. “I tricked him,” Pham explained. “I told him someone else did the job and a guy named Billy paid $30,000 for it. He got all mad.” According to Pham, Heang then tried to prove he had pulled the trigger by telling him the caliber of gun used and the number of shots fired. The prosecution says those details corroborate Pham’s account. On cross-examination, Heang’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender John Vaughn, worked to sow doubt about Pham’s credibility. Vaughn played up Pham’s admission that — contrary to what he told the grand jury — he isn’t fluent in Cambodian, the language Touch and Heang allegedly spoke when confessing. “Can you have a conversation in Cambodian?” asked Vaughn. “We have an expert interpreter here. If I asked you questions in Cambodian, would you feel comfortable answering in Cambodian?” “No,” Pham said. But later, Pham — who was born in Cambodia but left when he was 14 — clarified that while he could only speak a few words, he could understand when it was spoken to him. “Most of the time [Heang] spoke Cambodian to me. I understood every word,” Pham said. The defense lawyers also took Pham through his four robbery and assault convictions, and established that he stole $400 from an inmate while in prison. Alternate Public Defender John Breidenthal asked Pham if his testimony might be colored at all by the fact that members of the Asian Boyz had raped his girlfriend. Pham said no.

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