Crime scene photos and law enforcement witnesses made up the first day of testimony Wednesday in the preliminary hearing for the man accused of murdering a Santa Barbara doctor, his wife and their daughter.
Pierre Haobsh, 27, of Oceanside was arrested two days after Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies made a grisly discovery: three bodies wrapped in plastic wrap and duct tape in the garage of the family’s home near Goleta.
Authorities identified the victims as Santa Barbara Herb Clinic founder Dr. Weidong “Henry” Han, 57; his wife, Huijie “Jennie” Yu, 29; and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily Han.
The Coroner’s Bureau has said all three died of gunshots to the head.
The preliminary hearing in Santa Barbara County Superior Court is before Judge Brian Hill, who will decide whether Haobsh will face trial for the charges filed by the District Attorney’s Office: three counts of first-degree murder and special allegations that the offenses were willful, premeditated and deliberate; committed by means of lying in wait; and committed for financial gain.
Haobsh is represented by deputy public defenders Mindi Boulet and Christine Voss. He appeared in court Wednesday wearing an orange Santa Barbara County Jail jumpsuit.
Retired veteran prosecutor Hilary Dozer and Senior Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Ladinig are handling the case for the District Attorney’s Office.
The DA’s Office has not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty in this case, Dozer confirmed in court Wednesday.
Sheriff’s Department personnel testified Wednesday about being called to the family home at 4640 Greenhill Way for a check-the-welfare call, finding the bodies, and investigating the crime scenes.
Detectives also talked about interviewing a Thousand Oaks man who claimed Haobsh confessed the murders to him and asked for help disposing of the bodies.
Sgt. Brian Thielst of the Sheriff’s Department said he and a deputy responded to the Han home the evening of March 23, 2016, after friends of Han reportedly were concerned when he missed a meeting.
The two men were at the house and had walked through it briefly when the front door was open, and Thielst then looked through the home and garage when he arrived. He found the bodies on the floor of the garage.
In photographs shown in court Wednesday, the three appeared to be completely wrapped in white plastic and then silver duct tape.
Forensics personnel headed into the house several hours later, after obtaining a search warrant, said sheriff’s Detective Joel Rivlin, who testified that there were no signs of forced entry into the home.
Crime scene photographs showed a trail of evidence throughout the three-story house, and it appeared that some clean-up efforts had been started but clearly hadn’t been finished.
Rivlin said investigators found blood splatters in two bedrooms, bloodied bedding in the laundry room and a load in the washing machine, jugs of bleach in the trash and left on floors of rooms, and the packaging for plastic sheeting and duct tape rolls in trash cans.
Bedding was stripped from the beds in the master bedroom and Emily Han’s room, and bleach spots were visible on the carpet along with blood spots in both rooms, Rivlin said.
On the stairs, investigators found a bloody tooth in the carpet and a can of aerosol air freshener nearby.
A computer tower found in the garage near the three bodies appeared to be missing from underneath the office desk upstairs, Rivlin said.
The three bodies were taken to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Bureau, and some of the evidence was handed over to the state Department of Justice’s lab for latent fingerprints, Rivlin said.
Wednesday’s testimony did not shed light on what led authorities to arrest Haobsh, but sheriff’s personnel testified that in the early morning hours of March 25, the county dispatch center got a call from a man who claimed Haobsh had confessed the murders to him.
His phone call to authorities happened about an hour after Haobsh was arrested in San Diego County, Boulet noted in her cross-examination of the witnesses.
Deputy Julio Gutierrez called back the man, Thomas “TJ” Derida, who said his friend, Haobsh, had talked to him about the Santa Barbara-area homicide on March 23, and asked for help cleaning up and disposing of the bodies.
Gutierrez said the two men met up that morning, at Derida’s home in Thousand Oaks, after Haobsh texted saying he urgently needed help.
Haobsh’s story, according to Derida as told by Gutierrez, was that Haobsh and Han had met regarding a business contract, and then Haobsh killed the family, wrapped up their bodies, and tried to place all three in his vehicle – taking them out when only two fit.
Derida also mentioned that Haobsh said he had done it for $20 million in Han’s bank account, which he could access with Han’s phone.
Detective Sgt. Jeffrey McDonald, who later did an in-person interview with Derida in Thousand Oaks, said he saw text messages between Derida and Haobsh marked March 23 that included one from 7:35 p.m. that said, “Yep, I’m screwed. They found everything. My life is over,” and something to the effect of “if only I got to it sooner like this morning.”
McDonald said he told Derida he was not a suspect and was not being investigated.
Questions from Boulet indicated that Derida also knew Han from business he had with a group of doctors, and Derida was possibly involved in growing marijuana and the pornography industry.
Testimony will continue Thursday and Friday.