Garden Grove Man Sentenced In Killing Of Teenage Prostitute

Girl, 15, Was Related To Education Pioneer


POSTED: 9:34 pm PDT April 25, 2008


SANTA ANA, Calif. — A Garden Grove man who preyed on teenage prostitutes in Santa Ana was sentenced Friday to 63 years to life in prison in connection with the killing of a 15-year-old descendent of the founder of the Montessori schools and sexually assaulting three other young women, City News Service reported.


Jonathan Phong Khankh Tran, 23, a former car salesman, was convicted on March 13, 2007, of the first-degree murder of Hanna Denise Montessori, along with two counts of rape and one count of oral copulation under the color of authority stemming from sexual assaults on females, ages 16, 17 and 18, who worked in the same area.


Montessori’s body was found on Jan. 19, 2004, but was not identified until three months later as the great-great-granddaughter of Maria Montessori, who opened her first school in 1907. The girl had run away from a group home and was working the streets of Santa Ana when she was killed.


Tran also raped and robbed a 17-year-old girl in December 2003, after picking her up and pretending to make a deal for sex.


On Jan. 14. 2004, he showed a badge to an 18-year-old prostitute and told her she could avoid being arrested by giving him oral sex, police said.


Tran was first arrested in connection with charges he raped the 17-year-old; he was later linked to the other crimes.


Prosecutors said he picked up Montessori, who called herself “Ginger,” near Harbor Boulevard and Fifth Street. Once he got her in his pickup truck, he drove off, intending to rape her, but she jumped out of the moving vehicle.


A witness heard a “thump” as a truck drove by and found the teen in the street, bleeding from the head. She died before she arrived at a hospital, according to police, who said she had not been sexually assaulted.


Investigators later learned that Montessori had been a ward of the state of Georgia and had run away from a suburban Atlanta group home in September 2003.


She had grown up under idyllic circumstances, but became rebellious when her parents divorced in 1999, when she was 11. She was out of control while living with her father and stepmother in Maine and returned to Georgia to live with her birth mother, according to published reports.


Maria Montessori in 1906 developed a method of teaching that encourages independence and promotes the idea that children can educate themselves with little help from adults.


The “Montessori Method,” used in thousands of schools worldwide, stresses independent learning through a student’s surroundings, peers and themselves.


The late educator’s great-great granddaughter had attended a Montessori school for a few months when she was 3, according to her father, Derek.


He said in published reports that his daughter had been a good student and wanted to be a nurse before her life unraveled.

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