The high-profile killing of a an 84-year-old Thai American man in San Francisco will proceed to trial with the accused facing murder and elder abuse charges, a judge decided on Friday.
Vicha Ratanapakdee was walking on a January 2021 morning when he was violently pushed to the ground in the Anza Vista neighborhood. He died shortly after the incident, which was caught on camera and galvanized the Stop Asian Hate Movement nationwide.
More than 500 days after the incident, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Darwin ruled that the evidence presented by the District Attorney’s Office is enough for a murder trial.
A lawyer for Antoine Watson, the defendant, argued that the case should be charged as involuntary manslaughter because he had no intent to kill.
A dozen Asian community activists—including Monthanus Ratanapakdee, the victim’s daughter—attended Friday’s hearing.
“I feel relieved today,” she said after the judge’s decision. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
She said she was shaking during the proceedings, and she burst into tears when attorneys brought up details of the incident.
The next step in the case involves setting a trial date and selecting a jury.
One of the key arguments prosecutors presented Friday was that the incident met the standard of “implied malice” required for a murder charge. Assistant District Attorney Sean Connolly said Watson was allegedly yelling, “What the f**k are you looking at?” before the push.
But defense attorney Anita Nabha challenged the idea that Watson’s statement was directed at the victim. She said Watson was in mental distress.
The other argument centered on whether Watson knew about Ratanapakdee’s age. The prosecutor said the victim walked slowly, making it fairly obvious how old he was. But the defense countered that it would have been hard to tell because Ratanapakdee wore a mask and a cap.
Watson appeared in court Friday—as did his supporters. According to Nabha, Watson was born and raised in San Francisco, and spent his early childhood just a couple of blocks away from where the incident occurred.
“He (Watson) is loved and his family stands firmly behind him during this horrible chapter in his young life,” Nabha said.
Nabha—who’s also Asian American—acknowledged that the incident incited anger in the Asian American community. However valid those feelings, she said they can be “misplaced.” She also noted that because of the high-profile status of the case, it’s possible that public and political pressure swayed the DA’s charging decision.
The defense also filed a motion for Watson’s release, which the court will hear next week.
Arraignment is set for July 1. The trial date is unclear and expected to be delayed because of a backlog in the court.
Han Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org