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Half Moon Bay mass killing suspect pleads not guilty to murder

Zhao Chunli, accused of killing seven people at two Northern California mushroom farms, denies all charges in court

Zhao Chunli, accused of killing seven people at two Northern California mushroom farms, plead not guilty on Feb. 16 in Redwood City, Calif. (Video: Reuters)
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The man accused of killing seven people at two Northern California mushroom farms last month pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday, according to a court official.

Zhao Chunli pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations, said Sarah Lind, deputy court executive officer for the San Mateo County Superior Court system. Lind said Zhao’s next scheduled court date is May 3.

The Jan. 23 massacre was California’s third mass shooting in a three-day stretch that left 19 people dead, including the 11 people killed in Monterey Park.

Zhao, 66, said he decided to carry out the shooting in Half Moon Bay after his boss asked him to pay a $100 repair bill for damage to construction equipment that Zhao thought was someone else’s fault, authorities previously said. After confronting his colleagues, he allegedly shot them, authorities have said. Zhao used a legally purchased Ruger semiautomatic handgun, according to authorities.

Photos: 7 Dead in Half Moon Bay Mass Shooting

Zhao admitted to the shooting in an interview with local media. Speaking from jail with reporter Janelle Wang of KNTV, he said that he regretted the killings. Zhao added that he had felt bullied while working at California Terra Garden — where he is accused of killing four people before driving a couple of miles to Concord Farms, where he allegedly killed three more people.

Wang said Zhao worked long hours and, when he voiced complaints to his supervisor, he often felt ignored. About a week after Zhao’s jailhouse interview, a judge issued a gag order to prevent anyone associated with the case from speaking to the media, according to court records.

Officials have described the shootings as “workplace violence.” But the shootings have also brought focus on what many have called deplorable living conditions for the mushroom farmworkers. The Washington Post has reported that the workers lived in trailers or converted shipping containers without access to indoor kitchens or toilets.

A spokesman for California Terra Garden has disputed those claims, saying the business pays workers well and provides health insurance. But county officials who have toured the property said workers are living in unsafe conditions.

Alleged Half Moon Bay gunman targeted his own workplace, police say

Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez told the Associated Press that the farm where the shooting began employs 20 to 30 Chinese and Latino workers. Zhao is a Chinese national.

Zhao faces seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. If convicted of all charges, he could face life in prison or the death penalty, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe has said. The attempted murder charge is because Zhao allegedly shot and injured Pedro Romero Perez.

Those who died in the shooting were Zhishen Liu, 73; Qizhong Cheng, 66; Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50; Yetao Bing, 43; Aixiang Zhang, 74; Jingzhi Lu, 64; and Jose Romero Perez, 38, according to the San Mateo Coroner’s Office.