A judge ruled today that the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office cannot represent a man accused of killing five people last week because of a conflict of interest involving the defendant’s brother.
Binh Thai Luc, 35, is accused of the grisly killings of three women and two men early Friday morning at 16 Howth St. in the city’s Ingleside neighborhood.
Luc, a San Francisco resident, was arrested Sunday and has been charged with five counts of murder.
He was also charged with special circumstances that he committed multiple murders, committed them in the commission of robbery and burglary, that he used a blunt instrument to kill the victims, and that he was lying in wait before killing one of the victims, 32-year-old Vincent Lei.
The medical examiner’s office on Monday identified the two men killed as Lei and 65-year-old Hua Shun Lei. The women were identified as Wan Yi Xu, 62; Chia Huei Chu, 30; and Ying Xue Lei, 37.
A family member called 911 after entering the house, located near City College of San Francisco, at about 7:45 a.m. Friday and finding three of the bodies. Police responded and found two more victims.
Luc made his initial appearance in court on Wednesday, when Public Defender Jeff Adachi argued 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 was also arrested Sunday on suspicion of narcotics possession, being a felon in possession of ammunition and violation of his probation.
Prosecutors objected to the public defender’s office representing Binh Luc, saying there was a conflict of interest because Brian Luc was potentially an important prosecution witness in the murder case.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lucy Kelly McCabe gave both sides a day to file briefs arguing their cases, and returned today to rule on whether the public defender could represent Luc.
Adachi argued in court this morning that his office no longer represented Brian Luc once he was sentenced in his prior case.
“There’s absolutely no reason why our office shouldn’t be able to represent Mr. (Binh) Luc,” he said.
But Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo said, “Our obligation … is to ensure Mr. Luc has conflict-free counsel, and in this case that simply can’t be the public defender.”
McCabe ended up ruling in favor of the prosecution, citing the fact that the two defendants are brothers and lived at the same address.
The judge appointed private attorney Mark Goldrosen to represent Luc and delayed his arraignment for a week to April 5.
Adachi said outside of court that he plans to file a petition for a writ to the state Court of Appeal to allow the public defender’s office to represent Luc.
“We believe the judge’s decision was wrong,” he said, adding that the filing would likely be made by Monday.
The special-circumstance charges in the case make Luc eligible for the death penalty, although prosecutors have said District Attorney George Gascon will likely not seek capital punishment.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News