The murder convictions of a Fisherman’s Wharf shopkeeper who fatally shot two neighboring merchants in 2011 must be reconsidered because of evidence that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, a state appeals court has ruled.
Hong Ri Wu, then 59, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2014 for killing Qiong Han Chu and Fen Ping Ou, both 30, in the victims’ Jefferson Street shop because he was angry with them for selling the same cut-rate purses he was trying to sell. A defense lawyer also said the victims had bullied Wu.
Wu made some delusional statements in jail and went on a hunger strike, but a court-appointed psychiatrist concluded that Wu was trying to manipulate the system. The psychiatrist said he was competent to assist his lawyers and go to trial and, in 2012, Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan agreed.
The case was delayed for nearly two years, however, by Wu’s refusal to cooperate with the legal system or his jailers and their medical staff. When he attended court hearings, he swore at the judge and said people were trying to harm him. He was transferred in March 2014 to San Francisco General Hospital, where he again refused to eat and was force-fed through a tube after a different judge declared him gravely disabled.
A hospital psychiatrist reported in 2014 that Wu was incompetent to make medical decisions or to cooperate with his lawyers at a criminal trial. But Sullivan reaffirmed his 2012 ruling that Wu was competent and ordered the trial, which Wu did not attend. He was released from the hospital the day of the jury verdict and, when asked by Sullivan for a statement, uttered a two-word profanity before the judge sentenced him to life in prison.
On Friday, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said Sullivan should have ordered a hearing on Wu’s mental competence in 2014, rather than relying on the first psychiatrist’s report.
Wu’s mental condition had changed since 2012, based on evidence that he “was hospitalized, adjudicated to be gravely disabled, authorized to be forcibly fed and involuntarily medicated, and diagnosed by (another) psychiatrist to be incompetent to stand trial,” Presiding Justice James Humes said in the 3-0 ruling.
The court set aside Wu’s convictions but said they could be reinstated if he was found, at a new hearing, to have been mentally competent at the time of his trial. Otherwise, Humes said, Wu would be entitled to a new trial when, and if, he was found competent to face trial.
The decision on whether to hold such a hearing, and its outcome, would be made by a new judge, since Sullivan has retired from the bench.
Attorney Neil Rosenbaum, who represented Wu in his appeal, said he was pleased by the ruling and doubted a judge could make a meaningful decision now on whether Wu had been competent in 2014. Alex Bastian, spokesman for District Attorney George Gascón, said prosecutors were considering an appeal of the ruling.