Violent Crime

*Jury Finds Joseph Melcher Guilty of Three 2006 San Francisco Murders

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Jurors today convicted Joseph Melcher, 27, of three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for two separate shootings in San Francisco in 2006 that prosecutors claimed were racially motivated. The jury, however, found special circumstances allegations the shootings were hate crimes to be not true.  On Aug. 27, Melcher shot 21-year-old Robert Stanford 10 times after boxing in Stanford’s car with his own car at about 2:30 a.m. on SanBruno Avenue in the city’s Portola district. A 16-year-old friend of Stanford who was also inside the car was shot once and survived.  On Oct. 21, Melcher walked into the Flow bar on Post Street at about 9:15 p.m. and shot a 34-year-old woman, Song Sun Lee of San Bruno, twice in the back of the head, killing her. He also shot a female bartender, who survived, and then walked out to Peace Plaza and shot 22-year-old Kam Yan Li, of San Francisco, fatally wounding him.  All of the victims in both shooting incidents were of Asian descent, but a motive was never clear.  Witnesses to the Peace Plaza shooting described hearing the shooter curse and yell out not to mess with “Johnny white boy coke dealer.”  “I can’t tell you why he targeted these individuals,” AssistantDistrict Attorney Eric Fleming acknowledged to the jury during his closing statement, but he did present evidence that the attacks were unprovoked andtook place in visibly Asian neighborhoods, and that all the victims were Asian and were unarmed.  Also, “unflattering” pictures of Asian people were found on
Melcher’s computer, Fleming said, including an anime picture of a girl “cut up like sushi.” Fleming said following the verdict today that the Peace Plazaaccount showed Melcher was conscious of some racial relationship with his victims.  The “white boy” statement “really just sets himself off from the people he killed,” said Fleming. He added that he understood the jury’s decision.  One juror, Grant Miller, said after the verdict that the jury was initially split on the hate crime allegations, but eventually concluded there was simply not enough evidence to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. “I always felt those were weak too,” Melcher’s attorney Mark Iverson agreed. “They looked at his computer, and they didn’t find anything,” Iverson maintained.  Iverson added that Melcher insisted to him that he was innocent of the shootings. During the trial Melcher took the stand in his own defense, denying he shot anyone and pinning the Japantown shootings on another man who he said looked and dressed like him and had driven to the area with him that night to buy marijuana. Melcher said he came into the Flow bar after the shootings had taken place, and found both victims on the floor. He claimed he failed to call 911 and fled the area because he panicked.  Police spotted Melcher walking away from the area and after he drove off, ignored police sirens and drove through several red lights and
stop signs before he was finally pulled over and arrested. Though none of the witnesses to either shooting was able to positively identify Melcher to police, descriptions of the shooter’s clothing and facial features matched his, and blood from the Flow bar murder victim was found on his sleeve.  A gun registered to Melcher and matched to bullet casings from both shootings was found in his car. Miller called Melcher’s testimony under oath “one of the most ridiculous stories I’ve ever heard.” Fleming said today that a quick response by San Francisco police the night of the Japantown shootings likely saved the case.”That was just a great response by the Western Addition crime suppression unit,” said Fleming. He said three undercover officers were within blocks when the radio call came in. One of the officers used to work in the Japantown area and knew the shortcuts that criminals there take to try to get away from the scene, Fleming said. Melcher was walking through one of those shortcuts, when the officers saw him, he said.  “If they hadn’t been responding, he probably would have gottenaway, actually,” said Fleming.   Additionally, homicide inspectors assigned to both the Japantown and Portola district shootings later were able to match up the suspect descriptions from both crimes, Fleming said.  Melcher lived in San Francisco from 2002 to 2006, and attended City College of San Francisco, but before the shooting, had moved to the Los Angeles area and had briefly worked for a wine distribution company while attending college there.  Iverson called Melcher “a loner,” who didn’t know anyone during his time in Los Angeles.  “He lived his life, he’s really solitary,” said Iverson. His mother was an alcoholic with a history of mental illness, and he was essentially raised by his grandmother, who lived in San Mateo County, Iverson said.  He had no previous felony convictions before the shootings, but had been convicted in 2003 of violating a stay-away order against a fellow City College student, an Asian woman. Around the same time, he was convicted of battery for throwing a shot glass at another man, who was not Asian, during a bar fight, according to Fleming. With special circumstances allegations of multiple murders that the jury found true, Melcher faces life in prison without parole at his sentencing June 11.

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