Two weeks after Mei Ran Hu was found stabbed to death in her building, her son Zhi He Kuang is still searching for answers about what led to his mother’s death.
“I feel very helpless,” Kuang told The Standard in Cantonese. “I don’t know who is accountable for this.”
On May 5, the 64-year-old Hu was attacked just outside her apartment on the third floor of a 42-unit senior housing building in San Francisco’s Duboce Triangle. The suspect, 41-year-old Jesus Esparza, was arrested shortly after the incident.
Tenants in the building and Kuang believe that Esparza suffers from mental health issues.
Esparza was charged with murder and use of a deadly weapon by the District Attorney’s Office. He is facing 26 years to life in prison if convicted.
The case was only briefly discussed in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday, as Esparza refused to appear, choosing to remain in jail in San Bruno instead.
“When we obtain more evidence and information through the records, we'll be able to properly evaluate what his mental state was and is and has been over the course of his life,” Deputy Public Defender Ilona S. Yañez said in court.
The next hearing will be on June 12.
Though the District Attorney’s Office is seeking a standard prosecution, the defense attorney may assert that Esparza is not mentally able to stand trial, which would lead to a suspension of court proceedings until he undergoes a mental evaluation. If medical experts determine Esparza is incompetent to stand trial, he will be sent to a state hospital.
On Friday, about 20 residents of the building held a vigil for their slain neighbor.
“If my mom knows so many people are mourning her,” Kuang said, “she will feel some comfort, too.”
The incident happened at 462 Duboce Ave., a senior housing building for those aged 62 or older. Bridge Housing, a nonprofit developer, manages the property.
Esparza was more than two decades below that age threshold, so why was a 41-year-old man allowed to live in the building?
Bridge Housing explained that mental health issues are considered a type of disability, so even if someone is not over age 62, they could still qualify to live there.
“Bridge Housing is cooperating fully with the San Francisco Police Department's investigation into Ms. Hu's tragic death,” the organization said in a statement. “We extend our condolences to her family, friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”
Further, Bridge said that it receives referrals from the San Francisco Housing Authority, which screens the applicants. But the housing agency is not responsible for the day-to-day operation of the property.
“Although [the housing authority] ceased management of 462 Duboce in 2015, we remain committed to the residents and their continued wellbeing,” its CEO, Tonia Lediju, said in a statement.
Multiple sources, including tenants in the building, confirmed to The Standard that Esparza, who has been living in the project since 2017, had appeared to be mentally unstable and violent.
One tenant, who asked to be anonymous, spoke with The Standard on Friday after the vigil. She described Esparza as “very disturbed,” as he would sometimes behave strangely and cover himself with a dirty blanket.
“It’s very concerning,” the neighbor said. “He was in pain, some emotional, mental pain. He’s not happy.”
Some tenants said they had taken notice of Esparza and believed he should not be in the building without supervision. They said they complained to management but didn’t see any action taken.
His attorney, Yañez, said that her client has no criminal history and his family is worried about him “because he doesn't know what's going on, why he is where he is or what happened."
Bridge Housing did not comment on either Esparza or its management of the building, citing regulations governing medical privacy.
Kuang remains dissatisfied with the responses he's received.
“If he’s experiencing mental issues, he should at least have annual medical screenings and 24-hour supervision,” Kuang said. “If everyone says they are not responsible, then there can be no justice for my mom.”
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the neighborhood, joined the call for greater clarity on why Esparza could live at 462 Duboce without supervision.
“Mei’s death has shaken the Duboce Triangle neighborhood and San Francisco more broadly,” Mandelman said at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting. “Why was that neighbor… with severe mental illness and apparently a history of troubling antisocial behavior, living in senior housing?”
This story is part of a collaboration between The San Francisco Standard and Dion Lim of KGO-TV/ABC7 News. Dion Lim can be reached on Twitter @DionLimTV.
Han Li can be reached at email@example.com