A San Francisco jury began deliberations Monday in the trial of a San Leandro man accused of shooting a Burlingame man in the head at a Fort Mason Halloween party in what defense attorneys portrayed as self-defense against a hate crime.
Hun Chu Saelee, 35, is charged with four counts of attempted murder and four counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm in connection with the Oct. 28, 2012 shooting, which left Ben Pessah, then 21, in a nearly month-long coma with a severe head injury.
Police and prosecutors have alleged Saelee, who was attending the party with his then-girlfriend, Judiana Lau, shot Pessah outside the party around 12:40 a.m. and fired at his three companions after a dispute that started when he allegedly groped Carissa Harper, Pessah’s girlfriend.
At the time of incident, Saelee was preparing to leave the party with Lau, but had walked back toward the party from his car to try to find some belongings of hers when he encountered Pessah and Harper’s group.
However, in closing arguments Monday Assistant District Attorney Aaron Laycook said that after Pessah confronted Saelee over the incident with Harper, Saelee walked back to his car, where Lau was waiting, and got a loaded gun out of the trunk.
Laycook called the shooting that followed “willful and premeditated,” alleging that Saelee went after the group and shot Pessah when he tried to flee.
Deputy Public Defender Vilaska Nguyen, however, said that Saelee, who had obtained a concealed weapons permit after a previous attack, was attacked by the group and was defending himself.
Nguyen alleged that the group used racial epithets against Saelee, who is Asian, and followed him when he turned back toward his car.
Nguyen said Saelee tried to make the group back away by pointing the gun in the sky and firing warning shots away from them before Pessah was shot.
“He wasn’t trying to harm anyone, he wasn’t trying to shoot someone to kill them, he was shooting in the opposite direction,” Nguyen said.
Laycook dismissed the hate crime allegation, calling it “outrageous,” and argued that Saelee’s testimony in the case did not match with evidence including the locations of shell casings and the testimony of Lau.
“His story doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t match the evidence at the scene,” Laycook said. “Not only did he lie to you, he didn’t even give a convincing lie.”
The jury began deliberations late Monday afternoon and was scheduled to resume on Tuesday. Saelee remains in custody, with bail set at $10 million. Crime