HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KRON) – San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe says right now he has not decided on whether to seek a death sentence against suspected Half Moon Bay shooter Chunli Zhao, but the severity of charges against him does make him eligible for the death penalty.
But how likely is that?
Legal analyst Michael Cardoza says it is highly unlikely to happen because of the governor’s 2019 moratorium on the death penalty and also because executions have become increasingly unpopular. But despite Wednesday’s charges, Cardoza says the case’s biggest issue will be Zhao’s sanity.
Handcuffed and wearing a red jumpsuit, Zhao appeared before a judge at San Mateo County Superior Court on Wednesday. Wagstaffe filed seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder against the 66-year-old in connection to Monday’s shooting in Half Moon Bay.
It’s now expected Zhao’s defense will likely explore the lone shooting suspect’s sanity.
“The bottom line question in a courtroom is, did he know right from wrong when he committed these homicides?” Cardoza said.
Cardoza expects the defense will have doctors looking into what may have caused Zhao to snap, while the DA will be working to make sure Zhao goes to prison and does not get out.
“To find him or have the DA agree, which they won’t, to him being not guilty by reason of insanity, which then sends him to a psychiatric hospital. But I’ll tell you that’s going to scare the holy heck out of judges and the community, and I don’t see that happening,” Cardoza said.
Zhao is eligible for the death penalty, but Cardoza says it’s a non-starter considering the state’s position on executions. He predicts negotiations between the defense and the DA will take place as prosecutors will probably pursue special circumstances.
Cardoza also expects the wheels of justice to grind slowly with six months to a year being the earliest time for a resolution.
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“My crystal ball tells me it will come up to either life without the possibility of parole or he’s going to get 50-75 to life, or it could go to trial and you know what jury will do, they’ll bring him in and they’ll find him guilty and off they go,” Cardoza said.
The district attorney says they are also looking into Zhao’s prior contact with police. Zhao’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 16.