The man accused of killing seven people and injuring another at two farms in Northern California last January was arraigned on seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in a San Mateo court Tuesday but did not enter a plea, according to the county district attorney.
Chunli Zhao, the accused gunman, was indicted by a grand jury on Friday on the charges, prosecutors announced. He was also charged with the special circumstance allegation of multiple murder, according to a news release from the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
Authorities have said Zhao, a Chinese citizen, shot five people at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay where he worked – killing four – and fatally shot three more at a farm about 2 miles away on January 23, 2023. Five of the seven killed were Chinese citizens, China’s consulate in San Francisco said.
After the killings, Zhao was charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder and pleaded not guilty in February. That case was set for a preliminary hearing in March, but this month’s grand jury indictment supersedes the initial felony complaint against Zhao and the preliminary hearing will no longer be necessary, the district attorney’s office said.
In court Tuesday, Zhao was appointed an attorney. He is expected to enter a plea at his next court date, set for February 29.
Zhao’s attorney Jonathan McDougal did not comment on the indictment following the hearing, saying only, “We look forward to coming back in February.”
Tuesday’s hearing came exactly one year from the date of the shooting. District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe called the timing a symbolic coincidence.
“It’s a coincidence that I think serves a good purpose of reminding everybody the horror of what occurred,” Wagstaffe said.
The mass shooting became the deadliest attack in the county’s history, the district attorney said last year.
Zhao was a coworker or former coworker of the victims at each shooting site, and evidence indicated the attack was an instance of workplace violence in which specific people were targeted, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said at the time.
Zhao admitted to the killings and said he wasn’t in his right mind and didn’t know “what was happening mentally” when the shootings occurred, according to NBC Bay Area News. He also expressed remorse and said he regrets the attacks, according to the outlet.
Zhao had legal possession of a semi-automatic weapon that was registered to him, Corpus told CNN.
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