A judge cited a conflict of interest Thursday while denying a public defender's request to represent a man charged in the grisly slayings of five people inside a San Francisco home.
Judge Lucy Kelly McCabe instead assigned a private attorney for Binh Thai Luc, who is charged with five counts of murder, with special circumstance allegations of committing multiple murders, robbery and burglary.
In addition, Luc received a special circumstance of lying in wait in the death of one victim, which would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
McCabe told public defender Jeff Adachi that his office had a conflict of interest because it previously represented Luc's brother Brian Luc in a separate case last year, and the man might be a witness in the murder case.
Adachi reiterated his argument that Brian Luc is no longer considered a client after he was sentenced to three years of probation for drunken driving and firing a gun in a reckless manner.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo told the judge it was not the role of her office to determine who represents suspects in court, but it has an obligation to ensure they have a "conflict-free" counsel.
"In this case, we believe a conflict exists and the public defender should be disqualified," Woo said.
Attorney Mark Goldrosen was appointed to represent Binh Luc, whose arraignment was postponed to April 5 to provide time Goldrosen to review the case.
"Everybody here is interested in the best interests of the client and whether it's myself or the public defender who is representing him," Goldrosen told reporters.
After the hearing, Adachi said he plans to appeal the judge's ruling, noting that Luc signed a statement that he wants the public defender to represent him.
"We believe the judge's decision was wrong," Adachi said
Luc, 35, a Vietnam native, was arrested Sunday after five bodies were found March 23 at a crime scene so gruesome and complex that it took authorities days to identify the victims and a suspect. Police initially thought they were dealing with a murder-suicide.
The victims were Yuan Ji "Vincent" Lei, 32; his parents Hua Shun Lei, 65, and Wan Yi Xi, 62; his sister Ying Xue Lei, 37; and his girlfriend Chia Huei Chu, 30. The special circumstance of lying in wait applied to Vincent's death.
Prosecutors have said it was unlikely they will pursue the death penalty. They also have not discussed a possible motive.
Prosecutors also said that a blunt instrument was used in the killings in the city's Ingleside District but gave no other details.
Brian Luc also was arrested Sunday on suspicion of violating his probation for possessing drugs and ammunition. He has not been charged in the killings and is due back in court on April 3.