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Suspect in fatal shooting at Taiwanese church in California charged with hate crime

Prosecutors amended their case against David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, claiming the May 15 attack was due to malice over "race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin."
Crime scene tape surrounds Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif. on May 17, 2022.
Crime scene tape surrounds Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif. on May 17, 2022.Ashley Landis / AP

Southern California prosecutors on Friday added hate crime charges against the Las Vegas man who allegedly acted on his opposition to Taiwan and opened fire inside a church last month, killing one person and wounding five others.

David Chou, 68, had already been charged with a long list of felonies, including murder, in connection to the May 15 attack on members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church as they worshipped at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods.

Prosecutors amended their complaint to add a hate crime enhancement, accusing Chou of killing church member Dr. John Cheng due to "his race, color, religion, nationality, or country of origin," according to a statement by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

Five others were also wounded in the attack.

The hate crime enhance could be an aggravating factor if prosecutors seek capital punishment against Chou.

“After a review of additional evidence in this case, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed an amended criminal complaint to include hate crime allegations,” said DA Todd Spitzer said in a statement.

Even though Chou was born in Taiwan and lived in Las Vegas, investigators have found notes in the suspect's vehicle that reflect his “hatred of the Taiwanese people.”

Chou "was upset about political tensions between China and Taiwan," police have said.

The self-governing island nation of 23 million people, which operates under democratic rule, has long been a delicate issue for the United States, which acknowledges the People's Republic of China's claim that Taiwan is part of China.

After Mao Zedong's Communist forces won the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalists fled to Taiwan where they established a government-in-exile that Beijing deems as illegal and subject to eventual reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary.

While the United States does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, Washington maintains the American Institute in Taiwan, which acts as a de facto embassy.

And President Joe Biden has reiterated that the U.S. would defend Taiwan militarily should China ever attack the island nation.

Chou has previously participated in “pro-unification” groups, which recognize Taiwan as part of China, members of the Taiwanese Association of Las Vegas have told NBC News.

Defense lawyers for Chou could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.