DA charges man with 5 counts murder in SF killings

AP News
Posted: Mar 29, 2012 3:12 AM
DA charges man with 5 counts murder in SF killings

A man charged in the killing of five people inside a San Francisco home was due back in court Thursday where a judge was expected to decide whether the Public Defender's Office could represent him.

Binh Thai Luc, 35, was charged by prosecutors with five counts of murder on Wednesday, including special circumstances of committing multiple murders, robbery and burglary, according to court documents.

Luc also received a special circumstance of lying in wait in the death of 32-year-old Yuan Ji "Vincent" Lei.

Those enhancements make Luc eligible for the death penalty if convicted, though prosecutors likely will not pursue that sentence, said Omid Talai, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

The Vietnam native was arrested Sunday after five bodies were found Friday at a crime scene so gruesome and complex that authorities took days to identify the victims and a suspect. Police initially thought they were dealing with a murder-suicide.

The victims were Lei; his parents Hua Shun Lei, 65, and Wan Yi Xi, 62; his sister Ying Xue Lei, 37; and his girlfriend Chia Huei Chu, 30.

Luc appeared in court Wednesday but his arraignment was continued to Thursday so a judge could determine if his legal defense would be provided by the San Francisco Public Defender's Office.

"I would like a public defender to represent me," Luc told Superior Court Judge Lucy Kelly McCabe. "I think it's in the best interests for me."

Assistant District Attorney Linda Allen argued that there would be a conflict if a public defender represented Luc because the office had represented his brother, Brian Luc, 31, who may be a witness in the murder case.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi contended that his office can represent Binh Luc because Brian Luc is no longer considered a client after he was sentenced to three years' probation last year for drunken driving and firing a gun in a reckless manner.

Brian Luc also was arrested Sunday on suspicion of violating his probation for possessing drugs and ammunition. Brian Luc has not been charged in the killings and is due back in court on April 3.

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors said in the court documents that a blunt instrument was used in the killings but gave no other details.

They declined to comment further after the charges were filed.

Meanwhile, deputy public defender Steven Olmo said he had spoken twice with Binh Luc. He described the suspect as very concerned about his plight.

"I will let you know that he's a hard-working man, a man who works in the construction trade," Olmo said. "The family and friends we've spoken to are shocked that he's in this position."

Investigators have not discussed a possible motive and have released few details about the circumstances surrounding the deaths, only saying they believe the occupants of the house in the city's Ingleside District were targeted.

The court documents also listed special allegations against Binh Luc for previously being convicted of felonies.

State records indicate he was arrested in the 1996 armed robberies of a Chinese restaurant and a wholesale clothing business in San Jose and convicted of second-degree robbery and assault with a firearm.

During Luc's robbery of the wholesale business, he pistol-whipped a man in the head during a struggle before fleeing, according to records. Police later reported finding a machete in a getaway car driven by an accomplice, who also was convicted in the robbery.

Bihn Luc was in prison from 1998 to 2006 then served two years on parole.

After he served his sentence, an immigration judge ordered Luc deported to his native Vietnam, but that never happened because the Vietnamese government didn't provide the documents needed to remove him, federal officials said.