Suspect in Half Moon Bay shooting spree appears in court in California

REDWOOD CITY, California, Jan 25 (Reuters) – A California farm worker accused of shooting dead seven people near San Francisco, some of them his employees, appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday after being convicted of murder State had been charged with the second fatal shooting spree in recent days.

Chunli Zhao, 66, the sole suspect in Monday’s massacre at two mushroom farms in the coastal town of Half Moon Bay, was set to officially face seven counts of first degree murder and a single count of attempted murder in a criminal complaint filed by local prosecutors.

The hearing took place in San Mateo County Superior Court in nearby Redwood City, California.

The complaint against Zhao also alleged “special circumstances” in which Zhao was accused of killing “personally and intentionally.”

California law says defendants convicted of murder in “special circumstances” may be eligible for the death penalty, but Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on executions in 2019. The state has not executed a convicted prisoner since 2006.

Also on Wednesday, US Vice President Kamala Harris, a native of California, planned to travel to the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, where the first of the recent deadly shooting sprees took place. She was due to meet with some of the families of the 11 people who were fatally shot in a dance hall on Saturday night by a gunman who later took his own life.

The two shootings came in quick succession, sending California reeling in one of the bloodiest spate of mass gun violence in decades in a state with some of the toughest gun laws in the country.

Zhao was taken into custody Monday night outside a sheriff’s station, where police said he drove shortly after the farm workers were attacked.

The exact motive for the shooting remained unclear. According to a spokesman for California Terra Gardens, which owns the farm, Zhao was employed by one of the growers, Mountain Mushroom Farm, and had lived on the property with a few other employees. Authorities said initial evidence suggested the bloodshed stemmed from a workplace grievance. The second crime scene, Concord Farms, is about a mile away.


Half Moon Bay, a community of about 12,000 people south of San Francisco, is home to both a luxury resort and a low-income farming community. The shooting once again highlighted the plight of the region’s agricultural workers, many of whom are immigrants from Latin America and Asia, who often live in run-down labor camps and toil long hours in poor conditions for extremely low wages.

The San Mateo County coroner on Wednesday named six of the seven victims who died and listed their ages as ranging from 43 to 73. The indictment documents listed the dead as Yetao Bing, Qizhong Cheng, Jingzhi Lu, Zhishen Liu, Aixiang Zhang, Jose Romero and Marciano Martinez Jimenez.

Jose Romero’s brother Pedro was also injured in the attack and was hospitalized on Tuesday, the brothers’ cousin Jose Juarez told Reuters. Juarez said the brothers immigrated from Mexico and worked at Mountain Mushroom Farm.

Two days before the Half Moon Bay killings, another gunman opened fire 380 miles south at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, a Monterey Park club frequented mostly by elderly guests of Asian descent.

Eleven people died and nine were injured in Saturday night’s gunfire, which some survivors and bystanders said they initially mistook for fireworks as the mostly Asian-American community celebrated the start of the lunar new year.

Authorities said the attacker, Huu Can Tran, 72, drove to a second dance venue in the neighboring city of Alhambra a short time later. There, the operator of the club disarmed him before he could open fire.

The next morning, Tran shot himself at the wheel of his getaway vehicle as police approached him south of Los Angeles, leaving investigators little clue as to his motive.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Half Moon Bay, California; Additional Reporting Tim Reid, Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Brendan O’Brien, Brad Brooks, Jonathan Allen, Joseph Axe, Dan Whitcomb, Eric Beech, Omar Younis and Timothy Gardner; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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