A San Francisco Superior Court jury Thursday found a San Leandro man guilty of murdering his estranged wife with a hammer inside her Marina district hair salon in 2007.
The jury deliberated for a little more than a day before finding Jeff Nguyen, 43, guilty of first-degree murder in the April 14, 2007, killing of 37-year-old Mai Banh, District Attorney’s Office spokesman Seth Steward said.
The mother of two was found dead inside her Le Petit Salon at 1325 Chestnut St. the day after police and prosecutors said Nguyen met her inside the salon at closing time, lured her into a back room, and struck her repeatedly in the head with a claw hammer. Banh had filed for divorce a year before.
After his arrest days later, Nguyen initially denied involvement but later admitted to the slaying, claiming she had promised to pay off thousands of dollars of his gambling debts but failed to do so, and that she had recently begun seeing another man.
Nguyen’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Greg Goldman, argued the killing had been done in the heat of passion and was thus manslaughter.
“In the blink of an eye, things get out of control, and that’s what happened,” Goldman told the jury during closing arguments Tuesday. He said Nguyen’s frustration with his own life led him to lose control during a confrontation inside the salon.
Prosecutor Heather Trevisan dismissed that theory, telling the jury Nguyen was “a cold and calculated murderer.”
Trevisan said Nguyen coaxed Banh, who was alone in the salon, into the back room on the premise that he was going to help her with repairs. When she turned her back, Nguyen struck her repeatedly with the hammer, Trevisan said.
Nguyen then turned off the lights, locked the front door, and took Banh’s phone and purse “to stage it like a robbery,” Trevisan said.
Police arrested Nguyen after inconsistencies arose in his story. Banh’s phone and purse, as well as a hammer believed to be the murder weapon, were eventually found in his home.
Nguyen faces 26 years to life in prison at his sentencing Oct. 14, the District Attorney’s Office said.