As the prosecution lays out the case against Pierre Haobsh in the 2016 triple murder of local herbalist Dr. Henry Han and his wife and daughter, a key piece of evidence for Judge Brian Hill to consider in his decision is a four-hour interrogation video which shows an increasingly agitated Haobsh switch from cool and collected to frantic denial in Detective Jeff McDonald’s interview room.
Picking up where they left off earlier this week, prosecutors Hilary Dozer and Benjamin Ladinig brought Detective McDonald back on the witness stand in Judge Hill’s Department 2 courtroom at Santa Barbara Superior Court.
Much of the conversation in the first portion of the recorded interview between Haobsh and McDonald was small talk, with the feeling of two acquaintances chit-chatting over a beer. Haobsh answered benign questions confidently, smiling and cooperating without hesitation to the detectives’ inquiries.
McDonald begins picking around the edges of the issue, asking him about his involvement with Dr. Han, and about their proposed business relationship, which would meld Han’s herbal experience with Haobsh’s connections to the cannabis industry to produce alternative cancer cures. Haobsh is vague at points and veers into tangents about ex-girlfriends, FBI investigations, and potential world-changing technologies.
When pressed about details or inconsistencies in his answers, Haobsh’s calm demeanor starts to unravel. He stutters, contradicts himself, rips at pieces of tissue paper, and clicks a ballpoint pen nervously. He seems to regain his composure a couple of times, but around two hours into the video when Detective McDonald spots a bit of blood on Haobsh’s ear, the mood of the interview changes.
McDonald and another detective, Brian Scott, take a swab of the blood and snap a photo for evidence. After this, McDonald begins running through the details Haobsh has provided. For each one of Haobsch’s alibis, there is a contradicting piece of hard evidence. The Sunday night Haobsh said he went out to eat with Dr. Han, a few days before the murders, couldn’t have been possible. The Han’s had a dinner party, and their neighbor Don Goldberg — who ultimately found the bodies after Han missed a scheduled business meeting — had verified that he was there.
When confronted, Haobsh doubles down. He offers to show McDonald the restaurant where he and Han ate. It was right next to a movie theater, he says. He vehemently denies that he could be lying. He sinks into his chair, leaning as far into the corner of a small interrogation room as possible.
Haobsh pleads with the detective to call his friend Jay, who he says will corroborate every part of his story. He asks McDonald to keep an open mind for other suspects and offers his theories on where to look.
McDonald gives him a chance to come clean multiple times, telling him the story he had from Haobsh’s friend T.J. Direda: that Haobsh had confessed to the crime and told Direda that he needed help to get rid of the bodies. McDonald says he has the texts between the friends, with Haobsh urgently asking for help. The blood-covered cell phone of Han’s wife, Jennie, was found in Haobsh’s car when he was arrested. His fingerprints are on the plastic wrap and duct tape used to wrap the bodies, and Home Depot security footage shows him purchasing the same materials.
Even confronted with evidence, Haobsh doesn’t budge. When McDonald tells Haobsh that his father, Frederick Smith, had cried in his living room when he heard the crime his son was accused of committing, Haobsh sits silently. The 26-year-old in the video seems to be considering the full weight of the charges laid out in front of him.
In Judge Hill’s courtroom, just over five years later, Haobsh doesn’t speak a word either. He looks different than the man in detective McDonald’s interview room, the pallor settled in his face after half a decade awaiting trial. He speaks only into the ear of Christine Voss, his lead defense attorney. In order for District Attorney Joyce Dudley to drop the pursuit of the death penalty in the case, Haobsh waived his right to a jury trial, and his future now lies in the hands of Judge Hill, who will hear the rest of the arguments in the next few weeks.
Prosecution will continue with witness testimony on Friday and into next week, after which the defense team of Voss and Michael Hanley will present its case. The trial is expected to go until Thanksgiving.