After almost three years of efforts, the high-profile case seeking justice for the death of an elderly Thai American San Francisco resident is set to reconvene in early February 2024 to select a trial date at a Friday morning court hearing, according to the San Francisco Standard.
Vicha Ratanapakdee was a beloved 84-year-old Thai American immigrant man, known for his daily walks for exercise in the quiet Anza Vista neighborhood. On January 28th, 2021, Ratanapakdee was walking when security cameras captured a man run across the street and violently shove him to the ground. His head struck the pavement as he fell, leading to his death shortly after he was rushed to the hospital.
The 19-year-old suspect from Daly City, California, stands accused of the killing, facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse and murder.
As the Marina Times reported at the time, the suspects’s 20-year-old girlfriend was arrested as an accessory after the fact, as she is accused of waiting in his BMW while he committed the crime.
Vicha Ratanapakdee’s death, widely seen as racially a motivated attack, sparked the Stop Asian Hate movement during the worst of the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes that accompanied the pandemic. Ratanapakdee is still memorialized fondly by many as “Grandpa Vicha.”
Last October, a public stairway designated a public street in Anza Vista was renamed after Ratanapakdee by SF officials. However, that official memorialization of his death hasn’t seemed to translate into getting a trial date quickly.
“My father’s life was taken, and the court system has been painfully delayed,” said Ratanapakdee’s daughter Monthanus, who has became a devoted activist since her father’s murder, according to the SF Standard.
The prosecution and defense have both put the blame on the other for the long delay, apparently needed for the investigation. Watson’s defense attorney, quoted in the Standard, emphasized the obligation defense counsel has to ensure a thorough investigation, which can take a long time.
The defense counsel is arguing that Watson was in mental distress when he attacked Ratanapakdee, and pushing for the charges to be dropped to involuntary manslaughter as they argue he had no intent to kill.
According to San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, his office is ready to go to trial and the defense is stalling. But Watson’s attorney argues that the prosecutors haven’t requested a trial date, and they expect to file to dismiss the charges in the coming months before the trial date arrives.
Another San Franciscan victim of attacks on Asian elders, Yik Oi Huang or “Grandma Huang,” is also being widely remembered—but her case has also been left pending, four years on.
In California’s backlogged courts, such delays aren’t unusual, but the severity of the cases underlines the harm such waiting causes.
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