California Church Shooter to Be Charged, May Face Death Penalty: Prosecutor

The man accused of killing a doctor and wounding five other people in a shooting at a Taiwanese–American church banquet in California will be charged on Tuesday with murder and may face the death penalty, the Orange County District Attorney said.

The suspect, David Chou, 68, will face five counts of attempted murder, four counts of unlawful possession of an explosive, and one count of murder with a gun, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told CNN.

Spitzer said the gunman brought explosives, Molotov cocktail-like devices, 15 magazines fully loaded with 9-millimeter rounds, and two semi-automatic weapons with him when he went to Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, about 45 miles southeast of Los Angeles, on Sunday afternoon.

“That suspect was ready to kill everybody in that church,” Spitzer said. “It’s my belief that he was going to kill everybody and then blow up the church.”

Up to 40 people, members of a Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation from nearby Irvine, California, that has space in the church, were attending a luncheon honoring a former local pastor when the shooting began, sheriff’s officials said.

Chou, described by the sheriff as a U.S. citizen and Las Vegas resident born in China, drove to Southern California on Saturday and came to the church on Sunday morning, authorities said.

Spitzer said the suspect was motivated by his anti-Taiwan beliefs. His family was from China, but he grew up in Taiwan where there was a lot of anti-China sentiment at the time.

“He was not treated well,” he said. “Apparently he has carried that resentment his entire childhood and adult life.”

The FBI said it was opening a hate crimes investigation in the case. Spitzer said he may add a hate crime enhancement to the charges and will weigh whether he will seek the death penalty against Chou, saying that he understands that Governor Gavin Newsom has effectively put a moratorium on carrying out capital punishment in California.

The sheriff’s department issued a statement late on Monday saying investigators had “determined that the suspect was upset about political tensions involving China and Taiwan” but did not elaborate.

Killed in the Laguna Woods church shooting was Dr. John Cheng, 52, who was shot when he tackled the gunman, Barnes said, crediting Cheng’s act of bravery with preventing more fatalities.

Subduing Chou gave other congregants, including a pastor, the opportunity to overpower him and tie his legs with an electrical cord, detaining him until sheriff’s deputies arrived and broke through the chains on the doors.

The wounded, four men ranging in age from 66 to 92 and an 86-year-old woman, were taken to area hospitals for treatment, the sheriff’s department said.

By Brendan O’Brien