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Man pleads not guilty for Half Moon Bay shooting a second time

The man accused of the largest mass shooting in San Mateo County’s history pleaded not guilty for the second time to a series of murder charges. Chunli Zhao, a 67-year-old Chinese American man, is facing seven murder charges and one charge of attempted murder for gunning down seven people last year at two Half Moon Bay mushroom farms.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported prosecutors saying that Zhao is facing punishment of life without parole or the death penalty for the charges. Thursday’s indictment superseded previous charges that were filed immediately after the shooting, says San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, so there will be no evidentiary hearing and the case will move directly to trial.

According to the Mercury News, Zhao appeared in front of court wearing a red jail outfit with an orange long-sleeved undershirt. He spoke little during the hearing and wore a pair of black headphones for the Mandarin interpreter to translate the court’s proceedings. He answered “yes” in Mandarin when the attorney asked for his decision to waive his right to a speedy trial.

Zhao has been held in the San Mateo County jail without bail since the event last year. According to the Mercury News, he’s accused of first killing four workers and severely wounded a fifth at California Terra Garden, a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay where he had been living and working for seven years, most recently as a forklift operator.

Authorities say that moments before opening fire, Zhao was complaining to a supervisor about a co-worker who he blamed for a collision between his forklift and a bulldozer that triggered a $100 equipment bill from his boss for the damages. Following the confrontation, he allegedly shot the supervisor, the co-worker, the co-worker’s wife and two others at the farm.

Prosecutors also claim that Zhao continued his shooting spree at a neighboring mushroom farm across town, where investigators say he killed a former assistant manager and another couple.

AsAmNews reported that in January, the nonprofit Ayudando Latinos a Soñar or ALAS held memorials and round table discussions on gun violence to honor the victims who lost their lives during the shooting. 

This tragic event is shedding light on the concerns about living conditions among migrant workers living on farms in San Mateo County, according to Mercury News, where authorities described the worker dwelling conditions of the mushroom farm as “deplorable” with families crammed into shacks with leaky roofs and no running water or kitchens. 

Zhao was ordered to appear again in court for a hearing on April 19.

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