Latasha Harlins was a student at Westchester High School and was murdered by Soon Ja Du just thirteen days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King became public.
On March 16, 1991, Du saw Harlins putting a bottle of orange juice in her backpack and thought Harlins was stealing, even though Harlin was holding the money for the juice. Du attempted to grab Harlins by the sweater and snatched her backpack. Harlins hit Du with her fist three times, knocking Du to the ground. After Harlins backed away Du then threw a stool at her. Harlins then picked up the orange juice that dropped during the scuffle, threw it on the counter and turned to leave. Du reached under the counter to retrieve a handgun. Du then fired at Harlins from behind and shot her in the back of her head, then fainted. Du’s husband, Billy Heung Ki Du, heard the shot and rushed into the store. After speaking to his wife, who falsely claimed having been robbed, he dialed 9-1-1 to report the shooting. Paramedics soon arrived, but Harlins was dead, her two dollars still in her left hand.
Du testified on her own behalf, stating that it was self-defense and that her life was in danger, but her words were contradicted by the statements of the two witnesses present at the time and the security camera footage, which showed her shooting Harlins in the back of the head as Harlins was attempting to leave the store. However, the Los Angeles police department ballistics expert report also found that the handgun Du used was altered in such a way that, compared to an ordinary handgun, much less pressure on the trigger was necessary to result in firing.
The jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter with a 16-year prison sentence recommendation, believing that Du’s shooting was fully within her control and she fired the gun voluntarily. The presiding judge, Joyce Karlin reduced the sentence to probation of five years, four hundred hours of community service, and a $500.00 fine.