A man accused of killing five people in a home in San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood on Friday made his initial appearance in court this afternoon but did not enter a plea because of a potential conflict of interest issue involving the public defender’s office.
Binh Thai Luc, 35, was arrested Sunday and has been charged with five counts of murder in connection with the grisly killings of three women and two men at 16 Howth St. near City College of San Francisco.
Luc, a San Francisco resident, 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.
The medical examiner’s office on Monday released the names of the victims. The women were identified as Wan Yi Xu, 62; Chia Huei Chu, 30; and Ying Xue Lei, 37, while the men were identified as Hua Shun Lei, 65, and Vincent Lei, 32.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi appeared in court today 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 today, 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 at 16 Howth St., but said on Sunday that some sort of “edged weapon” was used in the killings, although no weapon has been found.
The case was reported at 7:45 a.m. Friday when a family member entered the house and called 911 after encountering three of the bodies. Police responded and found two other victims dead in the home.
Police have not confirmed reports that the elder victims were husband and wife, and that the other three victims were their daughter, son and son’s girlfriend.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said at a news conference on 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.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News