Trial for suspect in double-killing hangs on DNA

 As the double-slaying trial of Joseph Cua begins today, prosecutors say the casewill hinge on DNA gathered from the grisly crime scene left in the victims’ Millbrae home.

“Motive, opportunity and the calling card he left — that’s the core of the case,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Cua, 54, is accused of the June 13, 2006, killing of his former employers, Millbrae investor Fernand Wagner, 78, and Suzanne Wagner, 68, a hair stylist. Authorities say the couple was brutally beaten and attacked with a knife.

Prosecutors believe Cua, who managed properties for the Wagners in Burlingame and San Jose, was driven to kill by greed.

“We’ll argue it’s based on a financial motive. We do believe he was siphoning off funds as their property manager,” Wagstaffe said.

On Monday, the case was assigned to San Mateo Superior Court Judge Norman Gatzert. Pretrial motions begin today and opening statements will likely be presented next week. The trial is expected to last four to five weeks, Wagstaffe said.

Investigators recovered Cua’s DNA in the Wagner’s Lomita Avenue home, where their bodies were found. However, Cua’s defense attorneys are expected to argue that the evidence is unreliable, as Cua had been inside the home many times as a guest.

Jurors will also hear expert testimony regarding the Cua’s financial records.

Wagstaffe said the Wagners immigrated to the United States many years ago from France and became very successful.

“They were grasping onto the American dream only to have it shattered,” he said.

<p>The defendant’s wife, Joy Cua, is also expected to be a witness. In a July preliminary hearing, she testified that she noticed bruises on her husband’s hands after the murders and believed he was guilty.

Cua has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder with the special circumstance of committing multiple murders. He faces life in prison without parole. Prosecutors decided last year not to seek the death penalty.

Cua’s defense attorneys, Edward Pomeroy and Michael Hroziencik, did not return calls for comment.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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