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The man who allegedly killed one person and injured five others at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in California on May 15 has been charged with hate crime enhancements, prosecutors announced Friday.
David Wenwei Chou, 68, had already been charged with murder, attempted murder and other felony counts in connection to last month’s shooting.
This week, Orange County prosecutors added a hate crimes enhancement to the murder charge because they believe Chou’s slaying of John Cheng was motivated by race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.
Hate crime enhancements were also added for each of the five counts of attempted murder.
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If Chou is convicted of all charges, which also includes four counts of possession of an explosive device, enhancements of lying in wait and personal discharge of a firearm causing death, he could face the death penalty.
Last month, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes called the shootings a “politically motivated hate incident” and said Chou is believed to have “specifically targeted the Taiwanese community.”
Chou left notes in his car written in Chinese saying he did not believe Taiwan should be independent of China, Barnes said. The man appeared to take issue with Taiwanese people because of how he was treated when he was living in Taiwan, the sheriff said.
Prosecutors say Chou entered Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California, where the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church rents space, with two handguns, several backpacks holding extra magazines and four Molotov cocktail devices.
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He reportedly hid the backpacks in a banquet hall in the church and chained several doors shut.
Upon Chou opening fire on the congregation, Cheng attempted to fight back but was shot and killed. The incident involved five other people getting shot, but they all survived.
Following Cheng’s efforts to stop Chou, visiting Pastor Billy Chang ran up to the gunman and struck him with a chair. Chang was making his first visit to the church since moving to Taiwan two years ago.
Chang said he knocked Chou to the floor before hogtying him with an electric cord with the assistance of other parishioners, according to officials and eyewitness accounts.
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“He got scared. I don’t think he expected someone to attack him,” Chang told The Los Angeles Times.