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Crime News Murders

California Man Called "Monster" By Girlfriend's Family As He's Sentenced for Killing Her with Ice Ax

Daniel Gunnarsson was convicted of striking girlfriend Kathryn Pham repeatedly with an ice ax, then touching her corpse in a "sexual manner."

By Elisabeth Ford
A police handout of Katie Pham

Warning: This story contains graphic content

A California man has been sentenced after being convicted of luring his girlfriend into a garage, killing her with an ice ax and sexually assaulting her body, which was found by painters completing a job at the scene.

Daniel Gunnarsson, 23, was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, plus two years and four months for the murder of 21-year-old Kathryn Pham, NBC-affiliate KGET-TV reported.

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On May 18, 2021, painters working on Gunnarsson’s stepfather's Ridgecrest residence in California's Central Valley opened the garage and found Pham’s body, along with a blood-soaked Gunnarsson, who was 20 at the time, according to a news release from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. The two had been dating for a month before the murder.

Gunnarsson was arrested and found guilty in August of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon, and mutilation of a corpse.

“Only a monster would do such a thing,” Shiela Rockwell, Pham’s grandmother, said in court during Gunnarsson’s sentencing, according to KGET.

A police handout of Daniel Gunnarsson

The couple had been arguing the night before the murder, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. The following morning, Gunnarsson went to his stepfather’s home and discussed his relationship with Pham with her over the phone. He apologized, picked her up at her apartment and then brought her back to his stepfather’s residence.

When he returned with Pham, Gunnarsson took her into the garage. Painters working at the home then heard a woman screaming, followed by “the shuffling of items,” according to the DA's office. Roughly an hour later, the painters opened the door to the garage to continue their work and found a gruesome scene.

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“Upon opening the door of the RV garage, Gunnarsson was found covered in blood and Pham was deceased laying face down on a mattress topper. The victim’s clothing was partially removed, exposing her chest and mid-section,” the district attorney’s office wrote.

How did Daniel Gunnarsson kill Kathryn Pham?

The investigation revealed that Gunnarsson put on gloves that were found on the scene, picked up a 24-inch-long ice ax and struck Pham at least 10 times in the head, neck and face. He then repositioned her and proceeded to touch her corpse in a “sexual manner.”

A police handout of Katie Pham

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What has Kathryn Pham’s family said about her murder?

“What kind of animal would find it entertaining to butcher a girl with an ice ax and then toy with her body?” Thomas Pham, Pham’s father, said in court, according to KGET. Pham’s father told the court that he is haunted by his only child’s murder. Pham’s grandmother said that she wished Gunnarsson had received a harsher punishment. “I am sorry California no longer has the electric chair,” she said. “If anyone deserves it, you do.”

During the trial, Gunnarsson’s attorney, Lexi Blythe, argued that her client was innocent, but also said that if the jury thought he was guilty, he was not in a good state of mind at the time of killing, The Bakersfield Californian reported.

"You've obviously been emotionally involved in the case," Judge Brian M. McNamara said while dismissing the jury who convicted Gunnarsson, according to the outlet.

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