The January 2021 killing of 81-year-old “Grandpa Vicha” Ratanapakdee in San Francisco had its first preliminary hearing at the Hall of Justice Tuesday, with the victim’s loved ones and their supporters rallying outside beforehand.
It’s a little ironic that one of the highest-profile cases that helped ignite the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin is being prosecuted by none other than, you guessed it, the office of Chesa Boudin. That won’t remain the case, as Boudin will soon leave office, likely in July. But preliminary hearings in the January 2021 assault and killing of 81-year-old Thai immigrant Vicha Ratanapakdee began Tuesday at 850 Bryant, and per the Chronicle, Boudin’s assistant district attorney Sean Connolly is prosecuting the case.
The alleged killer is Daly City resident Antoine Watson, who was 19 at the time of the seemingly unprovoked sidewalk attack in the Anza Vista neighborhood. The case became a rallying cry in the recall movement because Boudin declined to prosecute the case as a hate crime, instead charging Watson with murder and elder abuse. Whether it’s fair or not, the victim’s family was enraged when Boudin said in a New York Times interview that “It appears that the defendant was in some sort of a temper tantrum.”
That does tie into Wednesday testimony, though, as the Chronicle reports Watson had a previous run-in with law enforcement previously that same fateful day. "Early that morning, officers stopped, but didn’t detain, Watson after accusing him of running two stop signs in a silver BMW," the Chron added, based on Wednesday's witness testimony. "He and a female passenger at some point then drove to and parked in the Anza Vista area of Western Addition, where, hours later, Watson allegedly pushed Vicha Ratanapakdee to the ground, causing fatal injuries."
Prior to the preliminary hearing Tuesday, Ratanapakdee’s family and supporters held a rally outside the Hall of Justice. KPIX has video of the rally and a few speakers seen above. NBC Bay Area reports that “Dozens of people gathered” and that “‘Five hundred days’ was the rallying cry from family and friends,” referring to the 500 days that have passed between the killing and Tuesday’s preliminary murder hearing.
"Five hundred days" was the rallying cry in SF from family and friends of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, or "Grandpa Vicha," whose was killed in January 2021. The suspect, 19-year-old Antoine Watson, was in court Tuesday. https://t.co/KoJULuHcyU pic.twitter.com/oVlkWwJPdS— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) June 14, 2022
"I have dedicated myself to supporting the AAPI community," Vicha’s daughter Monthanus Ratanapakdee said at the rally, per NBC Bay Area. "I have raised awareness to stopping Asian hate, and we need to help support the community, and we should raise our voice."
But what happens in the courtroom will determine the outcome here, and three key witnesses gave testimony Tuesday. According to the Chronicle, the prosecutor, Connolly, brought forward SFPD Officer Andrew Wheeler, who was the first on the scene after the attack, and two neighbors who heard the attack and/or saw the aftermath.
But the most powerful evidence was a neighbors’ surveillance video seen above (Warning: That is a graphic video of someone being killed.) “Footage of the assault held its shock value,” the Chronicle reports from inside the courtroom. “Spectators shuddered and gasped when prosecutors played it in the courtroom, asking [Officer] Wheeler to narrate the sequence of events.”
While “500 days” was a rallying cry prior to the hearing, that’s actually a fairly normal timeframe for the preparation of a high-profile murder trial. And while the decision to not file hate crime charges dogged Boudin, we have not yet seen evidence that suggests this was a hate crime.
But trials have a way of unearthing new evidence of which the public had not been previously aware. Preliminary hearings are the first step to a trial, and these preliminary hearings (which continue Wednesday) will determine whether there is a trial. It is possible that Boudin’s successor will add hate crime charges onto this case. But it’s also possible that Boudin’s successor won’t even secure a murder trial, let alone a guilty verdict for murder.
This post has been updated with Wednesday testimony.
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