BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The father of Kathryn Pham remains haunted by her death, wondering what she thought in her final moments as the man she’d dated for a month rained down blows with a sharp hiking tool.
She must have felt helpless as “the monster” Daniel Gunnarsson hit her repeatedly with an ice ax, Thomas Pham said in court.
He said he’s also tormented by thoughts of what Gunnarsson, 23, did after killing his only child. At trial it came out Gunnarsson touched her corpse in a sexual manner.
“What kind of animal would find it entertaining to butcher a girl with an ice ax and then toy with her body?” Thomas Pham asked.
After the father and other family members expressed sorrow and outrage, Judge Brian M. McNamara sentenced Gunnarsson to 25 years to life in prison, plus two years and four months. He was found guilty in August of murder and mutilation of a corpse.
On May 18, 2021, painters working on Gunnarsson’s stepfather’s house in Ridgecrest witnessed him enter the garage with the 21-year-old Pham.
Later, one of the painters entered the garage to let them know they would be painting the structure. What he saw stunned him: Pham was naked and lying facedown on the garage floor, motionless, while Gunnarsson, covered in blood, stood on a stepladder.
The painters got help and authorities arrived and took him into custody.
The gruesome killing occurred a day after the couple argued, prosecutor Samantha Allen said at trial. She said Gunnarsson became angry after seeing another man at Pham’s apartment. He later acted suicidal and drove recklessly, Allen said, and during a phone call called Pham a “dumb b—-.”
He later apologized and lured Pham to the garage, Allen said.
Gunnarsson’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lexi Blythe, argued at trial it was possible someone else snuck into the garage and killed Pham, then left unseen.
And if Gunnarsson was the killer, Blythe said, he may not have been in his right state of mind, and should face lesser charges.
Hardworking young woman
Kathryn Pham was a curious baby, her father said. He said she grew to become a brave young toddler and developed into a hardworking young woman.
There were some hiccups as the dimple-cheeked Pham navigated her way through young adulthood, family said, but she had high hopes for the future.
Her grandmother, Sheila Rockwell, said Pham had been looking for a new job and discussed going to college. She wanted to start riding horses again. An animal lover, Pham visited the local shelter to play with cats and dogs, Rockwell said.
She met her granddaughter 10 minutes after her birth. Pham was beautiful her entire life, Rockwell said.
“She was a treasure and we loved doing anything with her,” she said.
Pham’s sweet demeanor and caring nature make what Gunnarsson did all the more incomprehensible to her family.
“Only a monster would do such a thing,” Rockwell said.
Gunnarsson has a 10-year-old sister. Rockwell asked him what she thinks of his crimes.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Gunnarsson responded.
Now his sister, when asked about siblings, has the burden of informing others her brother is a “vicious murderer,” Rockwell told him.
Gunnarsson may spend the rest of his life in prison, but Rockwell said he deserves harsher punishment. She wishes prison officials would bring back a type of execution not seen in the state for generations.
“I am sorry California no longer has the electric chair,” she said. “If anyone deserves it, you do.”