2012 Ingleside, San Francisco homicide

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Ingleside, San Francisco homicides
2012 Ingleside, San Francisco homicide is located in San Francisco County
2012 Ingleside, San Francisco homicide
2012 Ingleside, San Francisco homicide (San Francisco County)
Location Ingleside, San Francisco, California, United States
Coordinates 37°43′22″N 122°27′00″W / 37.722694°N 122.449965°W / 37.722694; -122.449965
Date March 23, 2012 (2012-03-23)
Attack type
Mass murder
Deaths Five
Suspected perpetrator
Binh Thai Luc
Charges Five counts of murder with aggravating circumstances of multiple murders and lying in wait, five counts of robbery, and one count of burglary

Five people were found dead at a home in Ingleside, San Francisco, on the morning of Friday, March 23, 2012. The victims, all Chinese immigrants, were an elderly couple, two of their adult children, and their daughter-in-law. In Chinese-language media both in the United States and overseas, which devoted the most coverage to the killings, the case was usually referred to as the Lei family quintuple slayings.[1]

Police initially believed the case to be a murder-suicide, but two days later arrested 35-year-old San Francisco resident Binh Thai Luc, an acquaintance of the victims, and charged him with five counts of murder. At his arraignment on April 5, 2012, Luc pleaded not guilty to the charges. After years of delays in preliminary hearings as prosecutors requested additional time to review evidence, Luc's trial finally began on October 10, 2017.

Luc's arrest lead to political controversy over deportation from the United States, in particular the Supreme Court ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis that existing statutes did not authorize long-term post-prison detention of criminals whose deportations could not be carried out. Luc, a native of Vietnam who immigrated to the U.S. legally in 1989 as a child, was ordered deported after a 1998 conviction for armed robbery, but was released in the U.S. after completing his sentence because Vietnam's repatriation agreement with the U.S. explicitly excludes people who arrived in the U.S. before 1995. Republican politicians suggested amending the law to permit longer-term detention of deportable criminals and to deny visas to citizens of countries which failed to issue a travel document to any person ordered deported from the United States, and in 2017, the Vietnamese and U.S. governments formed a working group to discuss deportation issues.

Details[edit]

Killings[edit]

At approximately 7:45 am PST on March 23, 2012, three people were found dead inside a row house with the address of 16 Howth Street, located in the Ingleside district of San Francisco, near City College of San Francisco.[2] The bodies were discovered by a daughter and granddaughter of the elder slain couple.[3] Police arrived and found two more bodies in the house's backyard.[4] A neighbor said that she heard a "loud male person angry or yelling at around midnight" the night prior to the morning the bodies were found, but did not hear any gunshots.[5] The five victims were all Chinese immigrants and were related to each other; among the dead was 37-year-old Yingxue "Jess" Lei, the owner of the house.[6][7] Investigators said that the victims suffered from blunt trauma, and ruled out gunshot wounds as the cause of death. Police also believed an "edged weapon" was involved in the slayings.[8] News reports speculated that the killings were motivated by an attempt to collect on gambling debts; investigators declined to comment on that theory.[9]

Arrest[edit]

Following the homicides, police carried out intensive investigations involving more than forty officers, and executed search warrants in San Francisco and in neighboring San Mateo County to locate the suspect.[10] On Sunday, March 25, 2012, the San Francisco Police Department announced that they had arrested 35-year-old Binh Thai Luc, a San Francisco man, and charged him with five counts of murder in connection with the five bodies found in the home. Luc has an extensive criminal record, and his younger brother, 32-year-old Brian Luc, also a San Francisco resident, was arrested the same day as his brother on unrelated charges of drugs and ammunition possession and violation of probation.[7] Binh Thai Luc is reported to have known all five of the victims, and had been a frequent guest at their house.[3] The Luc brothers are both identified as being affiliated with a Vietnamese street gang.[2] At the time, Binh Thai Luc was employed as a plumber.[3]

Victims[edit]

The five victims, all Chinese immigrants, were related to each other:[6]

  • Hua Shun Lei, 65 (雷華舜; husband), a native of Taishan, Guangdong, was previously a mathematics teacher in China. After moving to the US, he worked at the R&G Lounge in Chinatown for 18 years, first as a kitchen assistant and later as a cook. His specialty was sliced roast duck.[11][12]
  • Wan Yi Xu, 62 (許婉儀; wife), was a cashier at Target.[13]
  • Vincent Lei, 32 (雷元驥; son), was an architect.[13]
  • Chia Huei "Chantel" Chu, 30 (朱嘉慧; daughter-in-law), a student at the nearby City College of San Francisco, was from Taiwan.[13][14]
  • Yingxue "Jess" Lei, 37 (雷映雪; daughter), was a software engineer for Quantitative Medical Systems, Inc., in the East Bay city of Emeryville[15][16]

Pre-trial court appearances[edit]

Legal representation[edit]

In his first court appearance, Luc requested a Cantonese court interpreter, but also spoke to the judge in English, and requested to be represented by the public defender's office.[17] At the San Francisco County Superior Court on March 29, 2012 before Judge Lucy McCabe, Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo argued that there existed a potential conflict of interest if Luc were represented by the public defender's office, as the office had previously represented Luc's brother Brian Luc, who was a potential witness. Public Defender Jeff Adachi argued that this was not relevant as his office no longer represented Brian Luc, but McCabe sided with Woo, and so Binh Thai Luc's defense was handed over to private attorney Mark Goldrosen.[18] Separately, the public defender's office filed an appeal from McCabe's decision not to permit it to represent Luc. The matter came before Judge Newton Lam, who on April 10 denied the appeal; reports at the time suggested that Adachi was likely to appeal again to the California Court of Appeals.[19]

Possibility of death penalty[edit]

District Attorney George Gascón stated in late March 2012 that he probably would not seek the death penalty, though Luc might be eligible due to special circumstance enhancements.[18] A poll conducted by CBS affiliate KPIX-TV around the same time found that 56% of San Francisco residents thought the government should pursue the death penalty in its case against Luc, while 33% were opposed and 11% unsure.[20] When interviewed again on the matter in late April 2012, Gascón stated that the special circumstances committee (composed of senior homicide prosecutors) was still awaiting sufficient evidence before making the final decision.[21] During Luc's court appearance on June 19, 2015, Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart stated that the prosecution would not be seeking the death penalty.[22] Luc could still face life imprisonment if found guilty.[23]

Arraignment and hearings[edit]

Luc was arraigned on five counts of murder with aggravating circumstances of multiple murders and lying in wait, five counts of robbery, and one count of burglary before Judge Samuel Feng of the San Francisco County Superior Court on April 5, 2012.[24] He pleaded not guilty to all charges, but otherwise did not speak. His bail was set at $25 million, and his next court appearance was set for May 3 at which time a hearing date would be decided.[25][26] Feng stated that he was "not comfortable" with granting bail, but Sharon Woo of the District Attorney's Office responded that because the investigation was still in its early stages, the prosecution was not yet prepared to offer sufficient evidence to meet the standard of "likely guilt" required to deny bail.[24] Additionally, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed an immigration detainer on Luc, such that even if he were to make bail, he would be released into ICE custody rather than being freed.[24][27] In late June 2012, Luc's brother was sentenced on unrelated drug charges.[28]

Luc appeared in court again on July 20, 2012. He continued to be represented by Mark Goldrosen. Feng announced that Luc's trial would be held on October 25, and then adjourned the hearing. Goldrosen explained the delay by stating that the investigation was still ongoing and that both the prosecution and the defense needed time to review witness statements and evidence. He also stated that his Luc was in good health and had received a visit from his parents.[29] By January 2013, Luc's case had still not gone to trial. A pre-trial hearing held before Judge Jerome Benson on January 15 resulted only in another court date being set for March 19, nearly a year after the date of the deaths, because a police report was not yet complete.[30] At the hearing on March 19, Judge Benson had been expected to set a date for a preliminary hearing, but instead defense lawyers again stated that they needed more time to review evidence, and so the hearing was set to continue on May 3.[31][32] In Luc's court appearance on May 30, the preliminary hearing was again delayed until July 30.[33]

By December 2013, the preliminary hearing still had not been held; in Luc's court appearance that month, the judge set the new date for the preliminary hearing to February 14, 2014.[34] Afterwards, the date was further pushed back to April 11, June 18, and then July 17.[35][36][37] On July 17, Luc did not appear in court due to illness; the court set dates of October 16 for the status conference and November 17 for the preliminary hearing.[38] The preliminary hearing finally began on March 16, 2015, and concluded in June.[39][40]

Trial[edit]

Luc's trial was initially scheduled to begin in March 2016, but prosecutors requested delays in order to have more time to review evidence.[40] Luc's trial finally began on October 10, 2017.[15] At trial, prosecutor Eric Fleming of the District Attorney's Office emphasized physical evidence linking Luc to the crime scene, including Luc's fingerprint on a bottle of Windex found at the scene and the blood of the victims found in Luc's car and on a pair of jeans at Luc's home, and suggested that efforts to destroy evidence at the scene by disassembling the sinks in order to flood the house would have required plumbing experience to carry out. Mark Goldrosen's defense of Luc focused on the prosecution's failure to advance a plausible motive for the killings, and on leads which the police failed to follow due to their focus on Luc, such as a report by an informant that a Chinatown gang leader had ordered the killings and DNA samples which had not been tested.[3][41] Goldrosen stated that while Luc was present at the scene, another person masterminded and carried out the killings.[3][42] The prosecution presented DNA evidence in court on October 17, while a forensic examiner testified on October 24.[13][43] In the fourth week of the trial, the six police officers who initially investigated the scene testified. Both direct examination and cross-examination focused on several thousand dollars of cash left at the scene.[44]

Deportation issues[edit]

Treaty and case law[edit]

In 1998, Binh Thai Luc was convicted of second-degree robbery and assault with a firearm for holding up a Chinese restaurant and a clothing wholesaler in San Jose in 1996. He served eight years of an eleven-year prison sentence at San Quentin State Prison before being released early on August 10, 2006 into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and sent to the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona pending an appearance in immigration court.[39][45] The following month, an immigration judge ordered that Luc be deported from the United States.[27] However, he could not be deported because the government of Vietnam refused to issue a travel document to allow him to be admitted.[39][46] Luc moved to the U.S. as a legal immigrant in 1989, but under the 2008 U.S.–Vietnam repatriation agreement, Vietnam is only required to accept deportees who arrived in the U.S. after the 1995 resumption of relations.[45][47][48] University of San Francisco law professor Bill Hing stated that this restriction exists because the Vietnamese government believes that Vietnamese who went to the U.S. before that date – primarily refugees from communism – are "products of the United States", and their criminal acts are not Vietnam's responsibility.[47] Due to the 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, Luc could not be detained indefinitely either, and was released from ICE custody after 180 days.[39][49]

Political responses[edit]

Various Republican politicians responded to the news of Luc's arrest with calls to pass legislation authorizing detention of deportees beyond six months.[50] Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on June 1, 2012 expressing concerns about Luc and other foreign nationals who had been ordered deported but continued to live freely in the United States due to Zadvydas v. Davis, and inquiring whether she would support legislation to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to authorize detention of deportees beyond six months.[51] In June 2013, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) moved S.Amdt. 1203 to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 to authorize detention of deportees beyond six months when their countries of citizenship refused to readmit them, and gave a floor speech on June 20, 2013 in which he mentioned Luc's case several times as justification.[52] A year later, Grassley, Inhofe, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), David Vitter (R-LA), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the Keep Our Communities Safe Act (S. 2463) for similar purposes; Grassley's press release regarding the Act also discussed the allegations against Luc.[53] In January 2015, those five senators along with John Boozman (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) introduced the Keep Our Communities Safe Act again (S. 291); Inhofe's press release again mentioned Luc's case.[54]

Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) proposed broader measures: he gave floor speeches on March 27 and July 10, 2012 calling for the passage of the Deport Foreign Convicted Criminals Act (H.R. 3256) he had introduced on October 25, 2011, which provides for denial of immigrant and non-immigrant visas to nationals of countries which "refused or unreasonably delayed repatriation" of deportees; in each speech, he referred to Luc and stated that Vietnam and other countries "who fail to take back their lawfully deported criminals" should face consequences.[55][56] He further brought up Luc's case in remarks to Napolitano on July 19 when she appeared before the House Committee on the Judiciary.[57]

Following Vietnamese prime minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc's May 2017 visit to the White House to meet with U.S. president Donald Trump, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs formed a working group and held discussions in July 2017 regarding Vietnamese in the United States to whom Vietnam had refused to issue travel documents for deportation due to the 2008 repatriation agreement.[58]

References[edit]

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