SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Newly-released court documents Wednesday in the case of a quintuple murder in San Francisco’s Ingleside district last Friday reveal prosecutors believe the murders were committed during the course of a robbery.
The charging documents filed by the District Attorney Wednesday morning described the murder weapon as a “blunt instrument” and said the suspect killed the three women and two men inside a home at 16 Howth St. near City College of San Francisco “while lying in wait.”
The report also said the murders were committed while the defendant was “engaged in the commission of Robbery … [and] Burglary.”
The District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday that Binh Thai Luc is charged with five homicides with special circumstances.
District Attorney George Gascon told CBS 5 Tuesday he will thoroughly review the case, but the death penalty is “unlikely.”
Luc was ordered deported after serving his sentence for the 1997 conviction in Santa Clara County, but authorities in his native country of Vietnam declined to provide the appropriate travel documents for his deportation and he was ultimately released.
KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:
Luc appeared in San Francisco Superior Court for the first time Wednesday, but his arraignment hearing was postponed until Thursday while a judge decides if the Public Defender’s office can defend him. His brother, a prospective witness in the case, is already being represented by the DA, creating a potential conflict of interest.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi appeared in court Wednesday to argue that his office should be allowed to represent Luc even though it represented his brother, Brian Luc, in a recent DUI and firearm case for which he is still on probation.
Brian Luc, who was in court as well Wednesday, was also arrested Sunday on suspicion of possession of narcotics, being a felon in possession of ammunition and violation of his probation.
Adachi argued in front of a standing-room only crowd in the courtroom that once Brian Luc was sentenced to probation six months ago, he was no longer the public defender’s client.
Binh Thai Luc also briefly spoke in court, saying “I would like the public defender to represent me.”
But Assistant District Attorney Linda Allen said there was a conflict of interest because the public defender had recently represented Brian Luc, “a potential prosecution witness … an important witness in this case.”
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lucy Kelly McCabe seemed to side with the prosecution’s arguments.
McCabe said, “In my 25 years in court, I’ve never had a public defender not declare a conflict” in a similar case.
However, the judge decided to let both sides file briefs on the issue and ordered them to return at 10:30 a.m. Thursday for her ruling and to continue the arraignment of Binh Thai Luc.
The public defender declined to represent Brian Luc, who was assigned a private attorney and ordered to return for arraignment on the unrelated charges on April 3.
Adachi said outside of court that attorneys from his office met with Luc and other family members in the past few days.
One of those attorneys, Deputy Public Defender Steve Olmo, said Luc is “a hard-working man” who works in construction trades.
“The family and friends that we spoke to are shocked that he’s in this position,” Olmo said.
Adachi also questioned the changing facts in the case since it was uncovered Friday.
“Initially we heard it was a … murder-suicide, then we heard it was a shooting case and now we’re hearing something else,” he said. “There’s a lot of speculation about what this case really is.”
Police Chief Greg Suhr initially said Friday it appeared that some of the victims had been shot, and that the case was considered to be isolated to the house, but said on Sunday that some sort of “edged weapon” was used in the killings, although no weapon has been found.
The medical examiner’s office on Monday released the names of the victims. The men were identified as Hua Shun Lei, 65, and Vincent Lei, 32, while the women were identified as Wan Yi Xu, 62; Chia Huei Chu, 30; and Ying Xue Lei, 37.
Police have not confirmed reports that the elder victims were husband and wife, and that the three other victims were their daughter, son and son’s girlfriend.
Prosecutors have also alleged that Luc was lying in wait before murdering Vincent Lei.
The complaint also mentions Luc’s previous conviction in December 1997 for second-degree robbery and assault with a firearm in Santa Clara County.
Suhr said Sunday that investigators believe Luc had a relationship with the victims but declined to elaborate.
The special circumstances charged along with the murder counts make Binh Thai Luc eligible for the death penalty, but district attorney’s office spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said it is “very unlikely” that the district attorney will seek capital punishment.
The case has also drawn interest because of its connection to federal immigration policy.
Binh Thai Luc had been ordered deported after serving his sentence for a 1997 conviction on second-degree robbery and assault with a firearm charges in Santa Clara County, but authorities in Vietnam declined to provide the appropriate travel documents for his deportation and he was ultimately released.
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