There is little dispute from lawyers about the bloody acts committed by Barry White four years ago in a South of Market jewelry wholesaler. He is alleged to have killed two woman, slashing both of their throats and shooting one in the face, nearly slayed the store owner and then fired upon responding police.
But 12 San Francisco jurors in White’s trial, which opened Thursday, must decide not only the 27-year-old’s guilt — he’s been charged with 16 felonies, including murder. They must also decide whether these acts were committed by a man who was in his right mind.
The July 12, 2013, bloodshed at the Vitago jewelry store at the JewelryMart at 888 Brannan St. left 51-year-old Lina Lim and 35-year-old Khin Win Min dead and seriously wounded Chich “Victor” Tang Hung.
In opening statements, White was characterized by the prosecutor as a man who was angry for being overcharged for a more than $5,000 gold necklace, and wanted to get even with three jewlery store employees because of a perceived slight.
But White’s defense attorney told another story that goes back to 2009 when a near-fatal shooting damaged White’s brain and left the man changed forever.
White’s trial will begin with the jury deciding whether he is guilty, said Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman. The jury then must decide is he was sane at the time of the crime.
White has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
“There’s a killer in this courtroom,” said Assistant District Attorney Diane Knoles in her opening statement Thursday morning in San Francisco Superior Court.
As part of her opening statement, Knoles showed a video of the crime, which included the shrieks and screams of the victims as well as the shooting and killing of three people.
“You will see the defendant slaughter a woman before your very eyes,” she said before showing several videos as the family of one victim, Lim, cried in the courtroom.
In video of the 2013 killing of two jewelry store employees, White is seen first sitting on a stool around 1:38 p.m. waiting to be helped. After a brief discussion with store owner Hung, White pulled out a pistol and shot Hung point blank three times.
He then calmly turned to Lim and shot her once with a five-shot .38 special. After that, White walked over to another employee, Min, grabbed her from behind and slit her throat with one ardent, sweeping motion.
As Min lay bleeding on the floor, White went back to Hung and Lim, who had crawled to a spot behind the counter.
Screaming and moaning were recorded on a nearby video system with audio. The recording captured a long cry, “Ahhhhhhhhh,” followed by calls for help.
White then walked from the premises with a blood-stained T-shirt as he reloaded his revolver. A trail of blood followed hi,, his wounded hands leaking onto the ground.
Once outside, White was soon approached by three officers, where he at first feigned surrender.
But after fleeing into a nearby taco shop, White opened fire from behind the counter.
Once he’d dispensed all his rounds, he threw down his gun and the six officers he’d fired at detained him.
Knoles, the prosecutor, said that White’s actions were premeditated. An AK-47 assault rifle was found in his car, and before the attack at the JewelryMart, one person saw White in a park with body weights on. When asked what he was training for, White reportedly said, “‘I’m getting ready for war,’” said Knoles.
White is being defended by Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof, whose opening statement concentrated on White’s brain damage and its impact on his behavior.
“No one can be shot in the back of the head and not suffer a mental defect,” said Maloof.
Before the injury, White, who worked as a medical clerk in Contra Costa County, was a shy, mellow person, said Maloof. But after White was shot in the back of the head and shoulder in 2009, he was a changed man.
“Barry was a walking zombie after he was shot,” Maloof said.
“His brain damage allows you to reduce the charge,” Maloof added at the end of his closing argument.
White, an Antioch resident, was shot in the head in 2009 by a police officer after allegedly trying to run over the officer. White has disputed that version of events in a federal civil rights case, where he contended that he didn’t know the person was a police officer.
His lawyer did not mention that he was shot by a police officer.
Opening statements concluded Thursday and witness testimony was set to begin Thursday afternoon.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.