SANTA BARBARA -- In a conciliatory gesture to a grieving family, authorities are dismissing a criminal complaint over "stolen candles" against Isla Vista stabbing victim Cheng Yuan "James" Hong, which stemmed from a bizarre January spat with roommate and eventual mass murderer Elliot Rodger.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley told this newspaper that late Friday morning, she filed a motion to dismiss the case involving Hong, one of six people Rodger killed one week earlier. She said the infraction was minor enough to be outweighed by the healing benefit to Hong's San Jose family.

"It's in the best interest of justice," Dudley said. "It's so small. I believe it's important to the Hongs that their son has no criminal history whatsoever. It's the right thing to do."

That's in line with the feelings of the family, which described the theft claim as overblown. It gained a wide profile when in the wake of the killings, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office reported Rodger initiated a citizen's arrest of Hong after accusing him of stealing $22 worth of candles. Hong was booked and released and later paid a fine.

But Hong's brother said Rodger initiated the conflict when he took away Hong's measuring cup out of annoyance over his cooking, and Hong responded by grabbing Rodger's candles to force a trade.

"In response, Elliot called the police," said Hong's brother, who asked not be named to protect his family's privacy. "What kind of person would call the police for such a petty argument?"


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Dudley said she was willing to go as far as asking the governor to issue Hong a pardon and explored that option before determining she could clear Hong's record locally.

Hong, a Lynbrook High School alum, was one of three people stabbed to death by Rodger in their apartment the night of May 23 before Rodger got into his car and continued a rampage through Isla Vista where he shot and killed three people and injured more than a dozen others.

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.