A man sentenced to 25 years without parole for the 2006 first degree murder of a loan shark who worked at River Rock casino is asking a jury to recommend his jail term be reduced.
Chu Ming Feng killed Rong Lilly Li after he and accomplice Guo Wei Liang abducted her in a rented minivan on May 26, 2006 in Richmond. Feng and Liang used Liang’s belt to strangle Li, who they buried the next day at Jericho Beach in Vancouver. Feng was convicted in B.C. Supreme Court by a jury on Oct. 28, 2009.
Justice George Macintosh and a jury heard Nov. 14 that Feng becomes eligible for escorted leave from jail in September 2028 and full parole in September 2031. However, under the Criminal Code’s so-called “faint hope clause,” a first degree murder convict has the right after 15 years to to ask the court for a reduced sentence. Feng is in his 16th year of custody.
Feng’s lawyer, Eric Purtzki, told the court that Feng is “not the person he was when he committed the murder in 2006, and not the person he was when he stood before this court in 2009.”
Purtzki said he would call witnesses who work at Mission Institution and a psychologist who say that Feng has behaved behind bars, was transferred to minimum security and is not a risk to reoffend. Feng is also scheduled to testify.
“At the end of the day, and based on all the evidence that you hear, it will be up to you to determine whether Mr Feng’s parole eligibility should be reduced and by what amount,” Purtzki told the jury. “That is, you may collectively decide to reduce the 25-year period and give Mr. Feng an earlier opportunity for parole, by any amount that you see fit.”
Crown lawyer Jeremy Hermanson conceded that the jury will “hear about an individual that could be described as a model prisoner,” but the jurors will need to consider all the facts, including the written impact statement of Li’s daughter, who was a teenager when Feng murdered her mother.
Feng was born in Guangdong Province in China in 1977, emigrated to Canada in 1999 and became a Canadian citizen in 2004. Court heard from an agreed statement of facts that Liang had incurred significant gambling debts after loans from Li and came up with a plan to abduct and rob her. Feng agreed to participate after Liang offered to split whatever money they could steal.
After Li was killed, Liang searched LI’s purse and took $500 in cash and gave Feng $2,000 in casino chips, which he cashed in the next day at River Rock. Detectives were unable to find Liang, but spoke several times to Feng from early June to mid-July 2006.
He initially denied any involvement in the murder, but eventually delivered a written confession to an RCMP officer at the Richmond detachment on Sept. 8, 2006, in which he apologized for lying to police. Feng claimed he temporarily lost all reasoning on the night of the crime when allegedly Liang gave him an intoxicating water. He participated in a voluntary re-enactment of the crime and directed police to the where Li was buried.
Feng did not testify at his trial. In 2012, a B.C. Court of Appeal tribunal rejected Feng’s appeal.
Feng’s faint hope clause hearing is scheduled for 10 days.
Evidence at the Cullen Commission into money laundering in B.C. included a 2006 memo that identified loan sharking as a problem in Richmond. The Richmond RCMP was confident that its “close working relationship” with River Rock, B.C. Lottery Corp. and RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team (IIGET) would prevent such crime by “sending the message that such criminal activity will not be tolerated in Richmond.”
The undated memo said there had been five kidnappings to date in Richmond, three of which involved possible extortions involving gambling.
“We have a current investigation regarding missing Vancouver woman Rong Lilly Li that also includes direct links to loan sharking,” the memo said. “In 2005 there were 11 kidnappings, two cases of which were involved extortions involving gaming. Since 2005, there have been two suicides related to gambling debts and/or money owed to loan sharks.”
Despite Li’s murder and other loan sharking crimes connected to River Rock, then BC Liberal Solicitor General Rich Coleman disbanded disbanded IIGET in 2009, six months before Feng’s conviction.
The Cullen Commission final report released in June indicated that, from 2012 to 2015, B.C. casinos received $376 million of suspicious cash. One high-profile cash facilitator, Paul King Jin, even set-up shop in an 11th floor room at River Rock’s hotel to serve high rollers. Cullen heard testimony that Jin wasn’t charging interest to high-level borrowers and their debts were often repaid in China.
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