June 4, 2023

A federal grand jury has indicted a suspect on 98 counts, including 90 hate crime counts, in connection with a shooting at a Taiwanese church in Irvine, California, nearly a year ago which left one man dead and five others wounded, authorities said.

The Justice Department reported Thursday that 69-year-old David Chou of Las Vegas was indicted Wednesday on 45 counts each of obstructing free exercise of religious beliefs by force, and violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Authorities said that Chou entered the Geneva Presbyterian Church on May 15, 2022, during a lunch banquet following a morning service and opened fire on a mostly elderly group of 45 people.

Dr. John Cheng, a sports medicine doctor, was fatally shot after he “took heroic action” and charged at the gunman, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said at the time.

The gunman, identified as Chou, was disarmed of two handguns, detained and tied up by parishioners until deputies arrived on the scene, sheriff’s officials said, adding that deputies also recovered four Molotov cocktail-like devices and bags of ammunition.

Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church shooting laguna woods
A sidewalk memorial in front of the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California, on May 22, 2022, following a shooting that left one man dead and five others wounded. 

Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Authorities said Chou had secured the church doors with chains, and disabled multiple door locks with superglue prior to the shooting to prevent the victims from escaping. 

“Chou allegedly acted because of the victims’ national origin and religion, and he intentionally obstructed the victims’ religious exercise,” the Justice Department said in its news release Thursday announcing the charges.    

Chou was also indicted Wednesday on six federal counts of using a firearm during the commission of a crime, and one count each of attempting to damage or destroy and a building used in interstate commerce, and carrying explosives during the commission of a federal felony offense, the Justice Department said.

He could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, the Justice Department said. However, California has had a moratorium in place on executions since 2019.

He is also facing separate state charges brought by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, including one count of murder and five counts of premediated attempted murder.

Caroline Linton contributed to this report. 

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