Orange County prosecutors announced Friday they have added hate crime enhancements to the charges against the man accused of opening fire inside a Laguna Woods church, killing a respected local doctor and injuring five other parishioners.
The District Attorney’s Office also added a special circumstance allegation that the killing was racially motivated, opening David Wenwei Chou to a possible death sentence, if prosecutors opt to pursue it.
Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of possession of an explosive device, along with enhancements of lying in wait and personal discharge of a firearm causing death.
He is accused of opening fire with two semiautomatic handguns May 15 inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church, 24301 El Toro Road, where a Taiwanese congregation was holding a luncheon to celebrate the return of its former pastor. Authorities said Chou carried out the shooting due to a long-standing grievance against the Taiwanese community over tensions with China.
He allegedly mingled amid the congregation and barricaded the church doors in hopes of trapping the people inside. Authorities said he was in possession of four incendiary devices resembling Molotov cocktails, along with a bag of additional ammunition.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said previously he believed Chou intended to kill everyone in the church, then burn down the building.
Aliso Viejo-based Dr. John Cheng, 52, was killed in the shooting when he rushed the gunman. Authorities say his actions bought time and allowed other parishioners to subdue the assailant, who was hogtied with an electrical cord until police arrived.
Chou is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 19.