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Prosecutor fingers gambling problem as motive for SF quintuple homicide

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Binh Thai Luc, an undocumented immigrant from Vietnam, is accused of killing three men and two women at 16 Howth St., seen here on March 27, 2012. (Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner)
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A plumber accused of five heinous slayings inside a single-family home in San Francisco was driven to kill when a gambling problem left him without money to pay rent, a prosecutor argued Tuesday during closing arguments in the quintuple murder trial.

Binh Thai Luc, 41, is facing murder, burglary and robbery charges for the killings at 16 Howth St. on March 22, 2012. Though forensic evidence connects Luc to the crime scene, one of the central questions for jurors is whether Luc had a motive to kill.

Luc, an inmate at County Jail, appeared in San Francisco Superior Court for closing arguments with two bruised eyes and wearing a collared shirt rather than a jumpsuit.

Prosecutor Eric Fleming said jurors could convict Luc of murder if they decide he either committed or participated in the killings.

Fleming suggested Luc robbed and strangled his friend Vincent Lei, and killed the rest of his family to prevent anyone from testifying against him, on the same night that he lost money playing cards at Artichoke Joe’s Casino in San Bruno.

Luc had just seven days to pay rent before his family was evicted from their home in San Francisco and only $1 in his bank account, according to Fleming. Luc paid $1,000 in rent to his mother on the same day of the killings. Police later arrested him at a motel in San Mateo and recovered $6,500 in cash.

The victims were found at the home with slit wrists and bludgeoned heads.

Vincent Lei, 32, was choked. His sister, 37-year-old Jessie Lei, swallowed her own teeth and had a broken jaw. His mother, 62-year-old Wan Yi Xu, was beaten the most and struck 21 times in the head. His wife, Yo-Yo Chu, 30, and father, Hua Shun Lei, 65, were also killed.

Fleming said Luc tried to cover up the evidence at the crime scene, flooding the house with water, bleach and white paint. Fleming showed jurors pictures of the victims dead in the home, their arms outstretched and bodies covered in household products.

“It was disorganized, it was desperate, it was not professional,” Fleming said.

But Mark Goldrosen, an attorney for Luc, argued that the killings were the opposite.

“These are gang-style, loan-shark style murders,” Goldrosen said. “Where’s the evidence that Mr. Luc is in a gang? Where’s the evidence that Mr. Luc is some type of enforcer?”

Goldrosen also said there is no evidence that Luc robbed the victims or burglarized the home. Without a burglary or robbery, Goldrosen said the prosecution has no motive for Luc to kill the family.

“Mr. Luc is not responsible for those murders,” Goldrosen said. “He was present at the time that the killings occurred, but he had no motive.”

“The people that were responsible for the killings do not include Mr. Luc. They have not been identified or arrested,” he continued.

Fleming said police found Luc’s DNA and blood around the house because he had a cut on his finger. The blood of Vincent Lei and his mother were also found on Luc’s clothing, and Vincent Lei’s blood was found in Luc’s car.

“His DNA is all over that room where Yo-Yo was murdered,” Fleming said, adding that Luc’s DNA was found in a dresser. “When you’re reaching into someone’s drawer after they’re dead, you’re looking for something.”

Fleming suggested that Luc stole $2,000 from a coat Vincent Lei had in a closet and suggested the victim may have been dealing drugs including marijuana.

When a family member found the bodies the morning after the killing, Fleming said a high school teacher passing by the house heard the family member say on the phone “they took the money.”

Goldrosen said there is no evidence that the house was ransacked and listed nearly $3,000 in U.S. and Chinese currency later found throughout the house.

Goldrosen said Luc had cash on him when police arrested him and no money in his bank account because Luc “deals in cash.”

Court records show Luc has a criminal history with convictions from 1997 in Santa Clara County for second-degree robbery, two counts of assault with a firearm and attempted robbery.

Luc is an undocumented immigrant from Vietnam. The U.S. reportedly attempted todeport Luc in 2006 upon his release from prison, but Vietnam refused to accept him.

Closing arguments are expected to continue Wednesday morning.

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