Defense Objections Fall Short, ‘Imperfect’ Self Defense Claim Also Fails in Murder Prelim

By Dorrin Akbari

SACRAMENTO, CA — Judge Tami Bogert found sufficient cause to arraign defendant Joseph Yi on his felony murder charge despite several objections made by the defense.

Yi was present alongside Assistant Public Defender Meghan Cunningham in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 14 for his preliminary hearing Friday.

Deputy District Attorney Caroline Park and three witnesses appeared via Zoom.

According to the DA’s file, on June 4, 2020, Sacramento Police Department patrol officers responded to a 5:48 p.m. call regarding a man who had been stabbed. Officers arrived at the scene and found a victim suffering from a life-threatening stab wound.

Sacramento Fire Department personnel attempted to render medical aid to the victim, but he succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Two days after the event, SPD homicide detectives arrested 26-year-old Yi for the fatal stabbing, and DDA Park offered testimony from three Sacramento detectives in support of her case against the defendant.

Detective Scot Krutz, who was an assisting officer on the case, said a civilian witness had been making her way onto a bus near the scene of the crime just before the altercation between the defendant and the victim began.

Thao had been driving a silver Honda Accord with Yi in the passenger’s seat. Moments before the stabbing, the victim and Yi crashed into a wrought iron fence—the sound of the crash caught the attention of the witness.

The witness saw the passenger exit the vehicle and make his way toward the driver’s side door. With a roughly six-inch-long folding knife in hand, the passenger began to stab the driver.

The driver attempted to escape his attacker and was ultimately able to run away. His former passenger briefly gave chase before retreating to the bloody vehicle and hurriedly driving away said the witness.

The victim collapsed to the ground, succumbing to his injuries. The witness attempted to assist the victim by applying pressure to his wounds while waiting for officers to arrive.

Civilian cell phone footage of the incident captured the events that transpired following the crash. In the video, the victim can be heard referring to his attacker as “Joe.”

Defendant Yi appeared to be taking notes throughout the detective’s testimony.

Detective Amanda Worm interviewed Yi the morning after the incident had occurred, after reviewing both the civilian cell phone video and real-time (RT) video from the nearby bus that had captured the altercation.

Worm described the assailant in the videos as “an Asian male with short, dark hair wearing a light blue t-shirt,” and that Yi had been wearing what appeared to be the same light blue t-shirt during their interview.

Investigators first identified Yi as a suspect after running a records search on the license plate of the Accord identified at the crime scene. A March 2020 traffic stop of that vehicle listed both the victim and Yi on the report.

A cell phone found by officers on the floor of the vehicle, which the assailant had by then abandoned, showed text messages on the day of the incident between the victim and a number that was traced back to Yi detailing plans to meet.

When DDA Park attempted to have Detective Worm identify Yi for the record as the individual she saw on both the cell phone and RT video of the incident, PD Cunningham objected.

Cunningham contended that because she couldn’t verify the quality of the video that Worm was viewing via Zoom, she couldn’t be certain that the witness’ identification of her client was accurate.

After heavy back and forth between the court and PD Cunningham—during which Judge Bogert noted that any objections to the use of Zoom should have been made before the start of the hearing—Judge Bogert dismissed PD Cunningham’s claim that her “client’s due process rights” were being violated.

Yi had told Worm, according to the detective, that the victim had been acting erratic and disrespectful toward him on the morning of the incident.

Yi recounted to Det. Worm a series of incidents between himself and the victim that angered and scared him, including rude comments by the victim toward Yi’s friends, what appeared to be an attempt by the victim to hit Yi with his vehicle, and dangerous driving just before the collision.

Worm stated that Yi had been in “fight or flight” mode as the victim drove erratically on the residential street where the murder occurred. Yi had grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to prevent the victim from swerving into a big rig on Yi’s side of the vehicle, which led to their crash into the iron fence.

At that point, according to Worm’s testimony, Yi said he “snapped” and proceeded to hit the driver/victim with what “may have been a knife or a blade.” Yi told the detective he drove away from the scene to try to “get a safe distance away because (the victim) is a dangerous person.”

Referring to the victim, Yi had told Det. Worm: “There are some people that deserve it. Some people deserve justice for their actions.”

When Worm told Yi the victim had been stabbed at least five times, Yi replied, “That’s all?”

During her cross-examination of Detective Worm, PD Cunningham contended that her client was cooperative with the police and feared for his life due to the victim’s volatile behavior.

Detective Derrick Lee testified the cause of death was multiple stab wounds.

PD Cunningham objected to his testimony, claiming that she hadn’t been given the opportunity to verify the expertise of the coroner. DDA Park replied that that was not a requirement during a preliminary hearing.

Judge Bogert overruled the objection.

PD Cunningham argued that the prosecution had failed to identify her client as the assailant and had not sufficiently established the victim’s cause of death.

She further contended that the prosecution had not met its burden with regard to malice because there was sufficient evidence her client “was acting in self-defense or at least imperfect self-defense” when the murder took place.

Judge Bogert disagreed, finding sufficient cause to order Yi to answer to his murder charge.

Yi will report back to Sacramento County Court Dept. 61 on May 19 for his arraignment, prior to a trial.

Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is from San Jose, CA.

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1 Comment

  1. Jenny Saechao

    This guy Joseph Yi, takes a life, one that people love, and and that any one love to know. And smiles in our face like it’s ok. Huh.  Any ways that’s not ok with me. And the way you speak of him as if he a monster.  I can go out and talk about Yt(yeng Thao) and there is not a single person that is going to say that they ever witnessed a angry side of him. ..

    Our friend our brother our Big Brother mainly that is who he is to most of us. It didn’t matter who u are where ur from what color or size u r. He always has a big brother character. Do any thing to make sure you have what you want or need. Couldn’t hurt a fly. He help the fly escape before I would even realize it’s bothering me.

    And I believe that Joseph Yi took a life of an angel. One that was here to guide and help ones like me keep faith and hope a live. No matter how ugly it may seem yeng Thao would help me see no matter how ugly but yet so beautiful it was.. and it’s ok. Just gotta make it through that day. And I’d be stronger the next. Just get some rest. Oh I miss him so much. Rip yt!

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