A Fisherman’s Wharf shopkeeper accused of shooting two rival merchants dead for selling the same knockoff purses as him appeared in court Tuesday for the beginning of his second trial on double murder charges.
Hong Ri Wu, 64, is facing charges again after an appeals court set aside his 2014 conviction on two counts of first-degree murder last year over questions about whether he was mentally competent to stand trial at the time.
Wu, an immigrant from a small village in China, leased a souvenir store at 269 Jefferson St. when he allegedly shot Feng Ping Ou and Qiong Han Chu, the 30-year-old merchants next door, on Jan. 30, 2011.
Prosecutors said Wu felt as though he had been challenged to kill Ou and Chu when they refused to stop selling the counterfeit Coach and Louis Vuitton purses that he believed he had the exclusive right to sell between the two stores.
Wu refused to eat in jail after his arrest and had outbursts in the courtroom, but in 2012 was found competent to stand trial. A San Francisco Superior Court judge moved forward with the trial in 2014 without ordering a new competency hearing despite Wu being hospitalized and force-fed.
The California Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled last January that the judge should have ordered the second competency hearing. The District Attorney’s Office later decided to prosecute Wu again rather than hold a retroactive hearing to determine his competency at the time of the trial in 2014.
Wu walked into the courtroom on Tuesday with his hands behind his back and nodded to two apparent family members in the audience. He had shaved his head in the years since he was first booked into jail and wore rectangular glasses and an oversized dress shirt and tie.
Sandy Feinland, his attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, urged jurors to find Wu guilty of just two counts of manslaughter rather than murder. Feinland said his client had worked in kitchens before a disability forced him to “make a hopeless career change” and rent the souvenir store for $6,500 a month.
“We all have our breaking point,” Feinland told the jury. “Hong Wu, a hardworking peaceful, family man, reached his breaking point when he perceived himself being cheated and bullied out of his livelihood and last shred of dignity. Hong Wu couldn’t take it anymore, lost control and snapped.”
Prosecutor John Rowland has charged Wu with two counts of first-degree murder and argued the killings were planned. Rowland told jurors that Wu brought his .45 caliber pistol to work days before the killings and hid the semi-automatic firearm under a stack of umbrellas.
“He brought the gun to the shop for the purpose of killing,” Rowland said. “He thought about it every day for approximately eight days. ‘Should I kill them, should I not kill them? If I don’t do this, then I am repugnant. It’s as if someone hopped on my tail. I don’t want to hurt anybody but I have been challenged.’”
Wu had a longstanding dispute with Frances Chu, the woman who leased the souvenir shop to him and the adjacent souvenir shop to Ou and Chu. Both sides said Wu believed he had a non-compete clause in his lease that should have prohibited his rival merchants from selling the same counterfeit goods.
The dispute had been underway before Ou and Chu leased the shop in July 2010, months before their killings. Rowland said Frances Chu told Wu that the business partners would stop selling the counterfeit goods when the inventory they inherited ran out, but they didn’t.
By the time Wu paid rent in January 2011, Rowland said he told Frances Chu that if she did not do anything, “he was going going to have to resort to violence.”
“He had been challenged by Frances Chu,” Rowland said.
Feinland said the traditional values instilled in Wu as a child born in “Communist China” in the 1950s explain his client’s behavior. He said values like working hard, respecting elders and supporting family had a “cultural impact” on his dispute with Frances Chu that elevated it beyond “some ordinary business feud.”
“She said to him, ‘you’re not going to do anything about it,’” Feinland said.
Rowland described the alleged crimes for the jury.
On the evening of the killings, Wu pulled the Smith and Wesson pistol out from under the umbrellas and loaded five bullets into the magazine. He put the gun in a lunch bag and closed the metal gate to his small shop early. He then walked across a narrow passageway between the two stores and saw Ou standing to the left of her store.
He raised the gun and pulled the trigger once, dropping her to the ground with a single shot. Wu then walked slowly toward the back of the store and told the two tourists standing “dumbfounded” inside to get out. “This does not concern you,” Rowland said Wu told them.
Chu witnessed the shooting and crouched behind a counter in the back, putting his hands over his head. The gunman unloaded the rest of the magazine into him.
Rowland said Wu placed the gun on the counter at the front of the store and waited for police. Another merchant from the area was the first to stumble upon the madness.
Wu told her, “I shoot them both, call the police.”
Feinland said Wu later told police his brain had been mixed up for a long time.
“I was holding my madness until today,” Wu told police. “I still coudn’t believe I would kill them.”
The trial is continuing at the Hall of Justice.