The man suspected of brutally slaughtering three Sheepshead Bay restaurant workers with a hammer will likely face hate-crime charges in addition to the three counts of murder authorities slapped him with, according to a law-enforcement source.
The source — who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation — told this newspaper that District Attorney Eric Gonzalez will likely prosecute the alleged murders as hate crimes, hours after locals and pols rallied on Friday to demand 34-year-old Arthur Martunovich face bigotry charges for purportedly killing 50-year-old Tsz Pun, his 34-year-old nephew Fufai Pun, and 60-year-old Thang Ng, with the tool.
“Let’s be clear, this was a racial hate crime, plain and simple,” Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) said at the rally outside the Emmons Avenue eatery at E. 21st Street she co-hosted with Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Sheepshead Bay). “For that reason, I call upon District Attorney Eric Gonzalez to stand with our community and prosecute these murders as a hate crime.”
The Councilwoman from the distant isle claimed that Martunovich’s alleged killing spree was motivated by racism because he watched a film depicting Asian men abusing women, which convinced the suspect — whom a Police Department spokeswoman previously described as emotionally disturbed — that he was a savior.
“He entered the restaurant motivated by a racial stereotype of gender relations in my community, with a goal to massacre, believing himself to be sort of a savior, the attacker bludgeoned these restaurant workers while they were doing their job,” Chin said.
Gonzalez’s spokesman Oren Yaniv could not confirm Chin’s allegations, however, citing officials’ ongoing investigation.
Martunovich has yet to be arraigned because he is still in a psych ward, according to Yaniv, who said he will undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is fit to stand trial. And if authorities deem Martunovich unfit to immediately go before a court, he will be sent to a mental institution until he is able, Yaniv said.
Cops arrested Martunovich, who lives in Manhattan Beach, on Jan. 16, the day after he allegedly assaulted the men with the hammer, immediately killing the younger Pun, with the elder Pun and Ng dying from injuries sustained in the attack on Jan. 24 and Jan. 18 respectively.
The incident left locals — and the Asian-American community in particular — reeling, according to one Bensonhurst resident, who called herself a patron of the restaurant and said she knew one of the victims, but declined to name him.
“It was really scary because I actually went here a few times when I was young, and it hit close to home for me,” said Mina Zheng.
And the fact that the grisly incident occurred inside an eatery made it even more devastating, Zheng said, because many Asian-Americans have family or friends who work in the restaurant business.
“The fact is, because we are Asian, we know what it’s like having relatives working in a restaurant. It’s a very common job in the community, and to see something like that happen in a place where it’s so unlikely to hear about is really shocking,” she said.
Zheng’s friend, who lives a few blocks away from the site of the alleged triple homicide, said news of the attack sent shock waves through the local community, many of whose Asian residents spread the news immediately via the Chinese messaging app WeChat.
“I was saddened because all of our parents sent me some WeChat news about it,” said Brian Sa, whose parents also used to work at a restaurant. “They told me, ‘Hey, the Seaport Buffet just got attacked,’ and it’s a couple blocks down from me so they were asking, ‘Are you ok?’ ”
The news that Gonzalez will likely prosecute the incident as a bigoted crime follows his recent formation of a dedicated Hate Crimes Bureau, which the top prosecutor created following a recent rise in biased attacks among vulnerable communities across the borough.