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San Francisco stabbing suspect ‘unaware of his actions’ during attack: Defense attorney

Diamond Ward from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office speaks to reporters on Tuesday. | Han Li/The Standard

A month after a stabbing incident inside a popular bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the suspect’s defense attorney has spoken out about her client’s medical and mental health history, looking to refute characterizations of the attack as a targeted crime.

On May 29, Fook Poy Lai, 61, was arrested for allegedly stabbing a female staffer inside the AA Bakery, causing the victim to sustain severe knife wounds to her head, neck and back.

Court records and news reports from previous years show that Lai has a long history of violence connected to the bakery, including two assaults against the owner’s father in 2007 and 2016.

Fook Poy Lai enters court at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on June 1, 2023. | Han Li/The Standard

However, Diamond Ward, the attorney from the Public Defender’s Office who is representing Lai, said her client is a psychiatric patient with serious mental health issues.

“Mr. Lai was unaware of his actions on the day of the incident,” Ward told a group of reporters outside a courtroom Tuesday morning. “He’s diagnosed with schizophrenia. He’s been in and out of the Department of State Hospitals for over a decade.”

Ward also criticized what she saw as a media narrative listing the history of violence between Lai and the bakery, which indicated that the attack was based on long-time hatred.

“That is absolutely false,” she said. “I intend to prove that as the case moves forward.”

According to Ward, Lai was released from jail in December 2022 on parole and transferred to a state hospital, but the criminal justice system failed him by providing no support, care or other resources by simply putting him in a halfway home after the hospital discharge. Lai had been serving a nine-year prison sentence for the 2016 attack.

The District Attorney’s Office has charged Lai with attempted murder, assault with deadly a weapon and other felonies. The office is also asking the court to revoke Lai’s parole in a separate case.

The next court date is Thursday.

The victim, a 60-year-old Chinese immigrant, was sent to hospital with life-threatening injuries after the attack.

Multiple community groups and activists, including Community Youth Center and Jade Wu from Assemblymember Phil Ting’s office, have been providing her with support.

According to Wu, the victim, nicknamed “Ah Fen,” is recovering at home in San Francisco and undergoing physical therapy to regain mobility. 

Han Li can be reached at