Judge says evidence proves guilt “beyond a shadow of a doubt”
Judge Brian Hill declared Pierre Haobsh, 31, of Oceanside guilty Wednesday afternoon for the murders of Chinese herbalist Dr. Weidong “Henry” Han, 57; wife, Huijie “Jennie” Yu, 29; and 5-year-old daughter, Emily Han.
The Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled Mr. Haobsh guilty on all three counts of murder in the first degree, including special circumstances of murder for financial gain, multiple counts of murder and personal discharge of firearm causing great bodily harm.
The case marked the first time Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley’s office pursued the death penalty, but the punishment was removed in a deal reached by the prosecution and defense. The agreement specified that Mr. Haobsh must waive his right to a trial by jury and instead submit to a bench trial where the judge is the sole deliberator.
Judge Hill announced his verdict immediately after closing arguments, explaining to the Santa Barbara court that his decision was not made in haste.
He had begun reviewing evidence over the weekend for hours on end. (Both sides, including Mr. Haobsh, permitted the judge to review evidence prior to closing arguments.)
He presided over the preliminary hearing in 2017, read the transcript of the preliminary hearing and reviewed the transcript prior to Wednesday.
Judge Hill said juries sometimes question what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means and confuse it with “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” His answer was more certain.
“The evidence, in my mind, proves beyond a reasonable doubt, beyond a shadow of a doubt the guilt of the defendant,” he said.
The defense’s closing argument, which was delivered after the prosecution, spoke about reasonable doubt and the prosecution’s burden of proof.
“Regardless of whether the defense gives any evidence to it at all, it was for the court to prove the case,” public defense attorney Christine Voss said.
She criticized the work of investigator Jeff Ellis from the district attorney’s office for not looking into the possibility of hackers on the devices recovered from Mr. Haobsh’s vehicle and at the crime scene.
Ms. Voss also said AT&T provided cell tower sector information, which provides the directional area a phone is located in relationship to the tower, but Mr. Ellis didn’t map the sectors.
She questioned the plausibility of TJ Derida’s testimony, the business associate of Mr. Haobsh that called law enforcement March 25, 2016, after hearing a confession from Mr. Haobsh.
She called it “implausible” that other civilians with information didn’t provide details to Mr. Derida prior to March 25.
Ms. Voss said Dr. Han initiated a $70,000 transfer March 19, so the prosecution’s evidence the money was wired on the 23rd is “impossible.”
She alluded that David Barber, assistant lab director of the California Department of Justice’s Santa Barbara lab, wrote a report to favor law enforcement’s assumptions about Mr. Haobsh.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig said her closing “much like her client’s testimony over the last two days is total nonsense.”
Ms. Voss called out his statement. The judge said it would be questionable in a jury trial, but he didn’t think Mr. Ladinig meant it as an accusation.
Mr. Ladinig’s closing argument reviewed a “mountain of evidence” and packed emotion as he described the death of “a beacon of light in the community,” Dr. Han and his family.
“It’s time to hold Pierre Haobsh accountable for eradicating an entire family bloodline in the early morning hours of March 23, 2016,” Mr. Ladinig said. “This truly shocked this city when they found out this family had been killed in such a depraved manner.”
He described Mr. Haobsh as a “monster,” referencing the defendant’s description of the murderer in his interview with police, and “a truly blackened soul.”
“What shocks the conscience is that if he had an issue with Dr. Henry Han, he could have shot him and not walked 50 feet across the hall into Emily’s room,” he said.
Wednesday morning, Mr. Ladinig cross-examined the defendant with photos of the autopsies projected. Mr. Haobsh didn’t look directly at the screen.
“I knew these people,” he said. “I don’t want these images burned into my memory.”
The courtroom was quiet. Bailiffs who once chuckled as the prosecution delved into the defendant’s dating history became still.
Photos of Emily appeared on the screen. She suffered eight gunshot wounds to her head.
“You can see there’s a big hole in her forehead,” Mr. Ladinig said.
Mr. Haobsh appeared to be looking at the ground.
“I’ll take your word for it,” he said.
Judge Hill directed the prosecution to skip additional photos of Emily.
Dr. Han and his wife Ms. Yu each suffered three gunshot wounds. In total, 14 .22-caliber bullets killed the family of three.
Detectives found a case of bullets in Mr. Haobsh’s car two days after the Han family’s deaths matching the cartridges found at the crime scene. The case was missing 27 bullets, and 10 bullets were loaded into a magazine also recovered from the vehicle.
Mr. Ladinig asked the defendant if the remaining three bullets were used in a target practice the night before the murders.
Mr. Haobsh’s GPS system shows a trip to an address off of Cat Canyon in Santa Maria. The defendant claims it was part of a Department of Energy meeting.
In his closing argument, Mr. Ladinig said Mr. Haobsh likely shot Dr. Han three times and replaced the magazine, with an 11th bullet ready in the chamber. That’s why Emily was shot eight times, he said, Mr. Haobsh emptied the second magazine.
Mr. Ladinig lamented that the Han family fell victim.
“Dr. Han was by all accounts a wonderful person, but he may have been too trusting, too much of a father figure, too much of a healer to the community,” he said.
Multiple past business associates told the prosecution that Mr. Haobsh was not trustworthy. He was accused of defrauding a company of $400,000 in his early twenties.
But Dr. Han signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a multi-million-dollar business with Mr. Haobsh March 22.
“The evil person that is the monster Pierre Haobsh knew this was his opportunity because he was desperately broke,” Mr. Ladinig said.
He also called the defendant a “lying liar who lies about lying” a moment later.
As Mr. Ladinig neared the end of his argument, he showed a slide featuring a selfie of the defendant with the title “murderer and liar.” The next slide had a picture of Dr. Han, Ms. Yu and Emily with the words “A dad, a mom and a little girl.”
Mr. Ladinig began to cry as he described the milestones the family would not experience.
“You can’t understand this. People like Pierre Haobsh, you can’t wrap your head around,” he said.
Mr. Haobsh is scheduled to be sentenced the morning of Jan. 24.