2012 Ingleside, San Francisco homicide
|Ingleside, San Francisco homicides|
|Location||Ingleside, San Francisco, California, United States|
|Date||March 23, 2012|
|Binh Thai Luc|
Five people were found dead at a home in Ingleside, San Francisco, on the morning of Friday, March 23, 2012. Police initially believed the case to be a murder-suicide, but two days later arrested a man identified as 35-year-old San Francisco resident Binh Thai Luc, and charged him with five counts of murder. The deaths were initially thought to be caused by gunshot wounds, but police ruled that out and instead stated that the deaths were from blunt force. The motive is still under investigation.
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 San Francisco City College. The bodies were discovered by an adult daughter of the elder slain couple. Police arrived and found two more bodies in the house's backyard. 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. The five victims were all immigrants from China and were related to each other; among the dead was 37-year-old Yingxue "Jess" Lei, the owner of the house. Investigators said that the victims suffered from blunt trauma, and ruled out gunshot wounds as the cause of death. Police believe an "edged weapon" was involved in the slayings. News reports speculated that the killings were motivated by an attempt to collect on gambling debts; investigators declined to comment on that theory.
While an intense investigation was being executed following the occurrence of the homicides, SWAT teams carried out search warrants in San Francisco and in neighboring San Mateo County to locate the suspect. On Sunday, March 25, 2012, San Francisco Police announced that they 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. Binh Thai Luc is reported to have known all five of the victims. The Luc brothers are both identified as being affiliated with a Vietnamese street gang.
- Hua Shun Lei, 65 (husband)
- Wan Yi Xi, 62 (wife)
- Vincent Lei, 32 (son)
- Chia Huei Chu, 30 (girlfriend of Vincent Lei)
- Yingxue "Jess" Lei, 37 (daughter); she was employed as a software engineer for Quantitative Medical Systems, Inc., in the East Bay city of Emeryville
Hearings and trial
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. 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.
Possibility of death penalty
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. 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. 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.
Luc was arraigned on the five charges of murder before Judge Samuel Feng of the San Francisco County Superior Court on April 5, 2012. 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. In late June 2012, Luc's brother was sentenced on unrelated drug charges.
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. 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. 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. In Luc's court appearance on May 30, the preliminary hearing was again delayed until July 30.
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. Afterwards, the date was further pushed back to April 11, June 18, and then July 17. 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.
The preliminary hearing was finally held on March 16, 2015. 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.
Treaty and case law
Binh Thai Luc was previously convicted for a string of armed robberies in 1996 in San Jose, and after finishing his prison sentence in 2006 was taken into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody pending deportation. However, he could not be deported because the government of Vietnam refused to issue a travel document to allow him to be admitted. Under the United States' 2008 repatriation agreement with Vietnam, Vietnam is only obligated to accept deportees who arrived in the U.S. after the 1995 resumption of relations. University of San Francisco law professor Bill Hing stated that this restriction exists because the Vietnamese government feels 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. Due to the 2001 Supreme Court ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, Luc could not be detained indefinitely either, and eventually had to be released from ICE custody.
Various Republican politicians responded to the news of Luc's arrest with calls to pass legislation authorizing detention of deportees beyond six months. 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. 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. 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.
Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) proposed broader measures: he gave floor speeches on March 27 and July 10 of that year 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. He further brought up Luc's case in remarks to Napolitano on July 19 when she appeared before the House Committee on the Judiciary.
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