Pierre Haobsh (above) is accused of killing Dr. Henry Han; Han’s wife, Jennie Yu; and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily Han, on March 23, 2016. | Credit: Courtesy

Discussions in Judge Brian Hill’s courtroom suggest the District Attorney is giving serious thought to dropping the death-penalty charges against accused triple murderer Pierre Haobsh; in exchange defense attorneys appear to be willing to waive Haobsh’s right to a jury trial and will agree to allow the case to be heard by a judge instead. 

Given the gag order imposed on all aspects of this case, involving one of the most grisly and bizarre multiple homicides in the South Coast, none of the parties were willing to say anything on the record. If such a breakthrough were to be imminent, it would take place in a proceeding scheduled for August 12. 

Haobsh is accused of killing Dr. Henry Han, a noted acupuncturist and herbal healer on March 23, 2016, along with Han’s wife, Jennie Yu, and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily Han, who had been shot in the face multiple times at point-blank range. Haobsh is accused of killing Han — with whom he was reportedly an associate and an investor in a scheme to manufacture new cancer and skin care medicines using cannabis — to clean out Han’s bank account and flee to Mexico. According to investigators, Haobsh greatly overestimated what Han was worth, but by the time he found that out, he had left a damning trail: cell phone records, gun purchases, ballistic matches, and internet searches for such things as how to manufacture a silencer for a gun. 

To date, Haobsh remains the only criminal defendant charged with death-penalty enhancements by DA Joyce Dudley. Should she change her mind, that would be noteworthy. But given Governor Gavin Newsom’s vow to oppose any execution while he’s governor and the shift in political sentiment away from capital punishment in California, a death-penalty conviction in Santa Barbara would be at most a token gesture of moral outrage. 

Like court systems throughout the state, Santa Barbara’s is experiencing an intense backlog of criminal cases in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Beyond that, death-penalty cases — one trial to establish guilt, another to determine sentence — impose intense demands on court resources.

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