The former Las Vegas resident who allegedly killed one victim and attempted to kill 44 others in a California church is facing new hate crime charges and other counts, federal prosecutors announced on Thursday.
David Chou, 69, was indicted Wednesday on 98 counts for last May’s Taiwanese Presbyterian Church mass shooting in Laguna Woods, Calif.
Prosecutors chose to charge Chou with hate crimes because of the victims’ Taiwanese origin and their Presbyterian religion, saying “He intentionally obstructed the victims’ religious exercise.” The specific charges are 45 counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by force, as well as 45 counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Other new charges are single counts of attempting to damage or destroy a building used in interstate commerce by means of fire and explosives, as well as carrying explosives during the commission of a federal felony offense.
In addition, Chou was charged with six counts of using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.
If convicted on these charges, Chou faces a maximum penalty of execution, or spending the rest of his life in prison without parole.
The new charges came from a federal grand jury meeting in Santa Ana, Calif. Jurors approved the indictment after hearing evidence presented by prosecutors.
Chou remains in custody awaiting a trial on state charges stemming from the mass shooting. They include one count of murder, with an enhancement for a hate crime, five counts of attempted murder, and four counts of unlawful possession of explosives. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On May 15, 2022, Chou pulled out a 9mm handgun and allegedly opened fire on visitors to the Geneva Presbyterian Church. Before the shooting spree, Chou allegedly fastened church doors so victims would be trapped as he opened fire.
He also hid ammunition and Molotov cocktails around the church. They were to be used in a complex plot to bomb the structure, authorities said. The intended explosions did not take place.
Chou was also armed with a second 9mm handgun, the New York Post reported.
During the melee, one visitor to the church, Dr. John Cheng, 52, died as he struggled with Chou. Five others were wounded.
Eventually, visitors were able to overtake Chou, grab his gun, and tied his legs with an extension cord until police arrived. A man believed to be the church’s former pastor, Billy Chang, reportedly used a chair to strike Chou in the head.
The visitors were at the church for a luncheon sponsored by Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church to honor a pastor. The congregation regularly used the Geneva Presbyterian Church building.
It was later revealed that Chou once lived in Taiwan and apparently had a grievance with the Taiwanese community. There are continuing political tensions between Taiwan and China.
Las Vegas Ties
Chou reportedly once worked on the Las Vegas Strip as a security guard, He was employed by a company that provided security at the Sands and Venetian casinos, the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
He also possessed a Nevada security guard’s license, reports revealed. He worked for five security companies in Nevada between 2014 and 2021, according to a document published by The Reporter Times.
Last year, it appeared he was homeless. One of Chou’s former neighbors, identified as Balmore Orellana, said Chou was last seen in his Las Vegas residence in February 2022, Las Vegas TV station KSNV reported.
Chou may have been living in his car in the months prior to the shooting, Orellana told KSNV.
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