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San Francisco prosecutors file hate crime charges
in triple murder case

By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service

March 23, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The San Francisco district attorney's office has added hate crime allegations to a triple-murder case involving a white defendant and three Asian victims.

Joseph Melcher, 25, is accused of killing two people on Oct. 21, one inside a Japantown bar and another outside near Peace Plaza in Japantown.

Prosecutors also claim that Melcher is responsible for an apparently random road rage incident two months earlier.

The hate crime allegations tie all three homicides together because the victims were of the same ethnicity, race and national origin while Melcher is of European decent, Assistant District Attorney Eric Fleming said today in court.

Witnesses claim that at the time of at least one of the incidents, Melcher yelled out not to mess with "Johnny Boy, whitey San Francisco coke dealer."

Melcher's defense lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Gabriel Bassan, vehemently denied the allegations and maintained that his client is not guilty on all charges.

If convicted of the hate crime allegations, Melcher would spend the rest of his life in prison. Allegations of multiple murder would also make him eligible for life in prison.

Police said Melcher killed Robert Stanford, 21, and shot Stanford's 16-year-old friend as they were leaving the Portola neighborhood home where they had been playing Monopoly into the early hours of Aug. 27.

Stanford's stepfather, David Garrison, said outside court that the hate crimes are a long time in coming.

"I really wanted them to file it from the get-go," Garrison said. "This is the worst thing that can happen to a family. I mean, it was such a completely random thing."

Melcher apparently didn't know Stanford or the two other homicide victims he allegedly shot in Japantown.

In the Japantown incident, police said Melcher shot and killed 34-year-old Song Sun Lee with a semi-automatic handgun inside The Flow bar at 1704 Post St. An unidentified female bartender also sustained injuries but survived.

Once outside, according to police and witnesses, Melcher approached Kam Yan Li, 22, asked him something and then opened fire. Li, who friends fondly called Steven, died the next day.

Homicide inspectors Maureen D'Amico and Michael Johnson began looking into a link to the killings after they noticed the description of Melcher fit the description given in Stanford's murder. They also noticed the same caliber weapon was used in both shootings and that ballistic evidence confirmed the match: a gun registered to Melcher in Los Angeles.

According to police, Stanford was killed occurred around 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 27 near the intersection of San Bruno Avenue and Burrows Street.

Stanford and his friend were leaving Stanford's girlfriend's house in their car when a small red vehicle blocked their way.

The driver of the red car got out and fired on the two men, killing Stanford and injuring his friend. Police only speculated at the time that the killing was a road rage incident.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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