The prosperous life Chinese immigrant Jing Hua Wu had scrimped 20 years to build was already on the brink of collapse when he was fired from his job. On Tuesday, the high tech engineer testified how that loss prompted him to go insane and commit one of Silicon Valley's worst workplace mass killings.
For the first time since Wu shot to death three of his bosses at SiPort in Santa Clara, he got the opportunity to tell the shocking story from his perspective to jurors who appeared at times bored, disbelieving and disgusted. Wu has pleaded not guilty by reason on insanity for the Nov. 14, 2008, killings.
He is set to be cross-examined late Wednesday by prosecutors who reject the insanity plea, contending instead that he committed first-degree murder because he planned the killings to get revenge for being let go -- including purchasing the bullets after he was fired.
Under questioning Tuesday from his defense attorney Tony Serra, Wu, 51, described being in a state of enormous stress leading up to the day he shot and killed his immediate supervisor Brian Pugh, CEO Sid Agrawal and office manager Marilyn Lewis at point-blank range.
Speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, the balding test engineer wearing black-rimmed glasses told the jury about his real-estate investments, including about nine rental properties in Arkansas, Washington state and California, that were worth considerably less than he paid after the housing market crashed. He'd financed them primarily through balloon mortgages or a costly home equity line of credit.
The $180,000 in savings he'd poured into a real estate investment fund had been squandered by the fund manager. And he explained how the last remnant of the nest egg he'd squirreled away for his wife and three young sons was about to be seized by the IRS because he'd done his taxes incorrectly.
"I was terrified something terrible was going to happen," he said, adding he was plagued by nightmares, weight loss and insomnia.
When he did manage to fall asleep, Wu testified, he often dreamed of being trapped by the bullies who spit on him and nearly drowned him during the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution in his native China. Serra has argued that Wu experienced a psychotic break when he committed the killings brought on by a flashback of that decades-old abuse.
To top it all off, Wu said, he and his immediate boss Pugh did not get along. Wu explored other job prospects, but decided to stay in hopes that the digital radio technology he was helping SiPort to develop would succeed.
Wu admitted that the stress affected his work and that there were several direct conflicts with Pugh, whom he believed was setting him up to fail. But Wu claimed he had no idea he was going to lose his job when he was summoned to a meeting with Pugh and Lewis, and told he was being let go.
"I felt something was pinching my heart," he said. "I felt terrified. There was a tight squeeze on my brain."
Wu then met with Agrawal and pleaded with the CEO to keep him on for three months otherwise he'd go bankrupt. Agrawal agreed to keep him on for that long as a consultant. But Wu said he thought Agrawal was leading him on, and he didn't believe the offer was real.
Contrary to the policies at many large Silicon Valley companies, Wu was allowed to linger at the small startup after being fired that Friday. After eating lunch in the break room, he drove away planning to do three things, he said: deposit his last paychecks, get bullets for the gun he'd purchased for self-defense and target practice the previous month, and drop the weapon off at home.
Revenge was the furthest thing from his mind, he said. But he was feeling suicidal by then, he said. He'd bought 50 bullets because they were cheaper in bulk, he testified, after noting earlier in the day that he was very "frugal."
Ashamed to face his family, he drove back to SiPort and sat in the hot parked car for awhile before retrieving the gun from the cargo area and climbing back into the SUV. He said he thought of Iris Chang, the renowned Chinese-American author of "The Rape of Nanking" who shot herself to death in Los Gatos in 2004.
"My mind was a mess," he said. "My life was empty. I thought I might as well die."
But he couldn't pull the trigger.
"I pointed the gun at my head, and then I thought about my children," Wu said.
In the audience, one of Lewis' children -- who lost her mother -- gripped her fiancee's hand as Wu spoke of sparing his kids from having to endure his death.
Wu wound up his account for the day, leaving the end of the story until he resumes testifying Wednesday morning. He left off by saying he headed on foot toward SiPort.
"I wanted to die," he said, "in the company. I felt the company was not fair to me."
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.