Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed on March 16, 1991 by Soon Ja Du, a 51-year-old Korean store owner. Harlens was a student at Westchester High School in Los Angeles, California. Her death happened thirteen days after the videotape of the Rodney King beating was released.
Storeowner Du saw Harlins putting a bottle of orange juice in her backpack. She thought that the young girl was attempting to steal the bottle of juice, she did not see the money that Harlins had in her hand to pay for the juice. Du grabbed at Harlins by the sweater in attempt to snatch her backpack, but Harlins struck Du three times with her fist, allegedly knocking her to the ground. After Harlins backed away from Du. Du picked up a stool and threw it at her. Harlins then picked up the orange juice that dropped during the scuffle, and threw it on the counter and turned to leave the store. That is when Du reached under the counter to retrieve a handgun. She then fired at 15-year-old Harlins from behind at a distance of about three feet, shot her in the back of her head, killing her instantly.
Du’s husband, Billy Heung Ki Du, heard the shot and rushed into the store and called 911. Harlins died with two dollars in her left hand. Du claimed self-defense and testified that she felt her life was in danger. However, there were contradictory statements of two witnesses who were present at the time and the security camera footage that showed Du shooting Harlins in the back of the head leaving the store. The Los Angeles police department ballistics expert report also found that the handgun Du used had been altered in such a way that, compared to an ordinary handgun, much less pressure on the trigger was necessary to result in firing.
On November 15 1991 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.