Appeals court overturns conviction in Fisherman’s Wharf double murder

A spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Wednesday prosecutors are mulling whether to appeal a ruling overturning the double murder conviction of a Fisherman’s Wharf merchant who was denied a mental competency hearing.

“We are weighing our appellate options” in the case of Hong Ri Wu, said spokesman Max Szabo.

Wu, 62, was convicted in San Francisco Superior Court in 2014 of two first-degree murders for fatally shooting two workers at a neighboring souvenir shop on Jefferson Street in the Fisherman’s Wharf area on Jan. 30, 2011.

Prosecutors alleged during the trial that he killed Feng Ping Ou and Qiong Han Chu, both 30, on Jan. 30, 2011, because they were selling the same types of merchandise as his shop for lower prices.

Wu was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned the conviction on the ground that Wu should have been given a hearing in 2014 to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial.

Two years earlier, a Superior Court judge held such a hearing and accepted a forensic psychiatrist’s conclusion that Wu was competent. The psychiatrist said Wu’s behavior such as refusing to eat and engaging in outbursts was manipulative.

By the time of his trial, Wu was on a hunger strike, was being forcibly fed and medicated, refused talk to his lawyer, refused to attend the trial and had been admitted to San Francisco General Hospital, where doctors classified him as gravely disabled.

The trial judge, now-retired Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan, declined to order a new competency hearing, saying that Wu’s behavior was essentially unchanged from two years earlier and that he appeared to continue to be manipulative.

The appeals court said, however, that Wu’s behavior had changed sufficiently to require a new competency hearing.

Justice James Humes wrote for the court:

“In our view, such a change was presented by the evidence that Wu was hospitalized, adjudicated to be gravely disabled, authorized to be forcibly fed and involuntarily medicated, and diagnosed by a psychiatrist to be incompetent to stand trial.”

Prosecutors now have 40 days to decide whether to appeal to the California Supreme Court. They could also ask the appeals court to reconsider the ruling.

If there is no successful appeal, prosecutors could seek an unusual retrospective competency hearing to determine on the basis of available evidence whether Wu was mentally competent in 2014.

Alternatively, they could opt for a retrial, which would be preceded by a competency hearing to determine whether Wu is currently able to stand trial. A plea bargain would also be an option.

Wu is currently being held at the state prison system’s California Medical Facility at Vacaville.

Neil Rosenbaum, Wu’s lawyer in the appeal, said he expected Wu to remain either at Vacaville or in jail while the next steps in the case are being worked out. If found incompetent, Wu would probably be placed in a locked state mental hospital, he said.

“A lot of questions (about the next steps) still have to be answered and we don’t know how it will turn out at the end,” he said.

Rosenbaum said of the appeals court decision:

“I think it was the correct ruling, based on the evidence presented to the trial court. There was evidence he was psychotic.”