After almost two days of deliberations, a jury returned Wednesday morning to B.C. Supreme Court and reduced the first degree murder sentence of Chu Ming Feng by three years.
Feng killed River Rock casino loan shark Rong Lilly Li in May 2006 and was arrested in September 2006 after confessing to the crime. A B.C. Supreme Court jury convicted Feng of first degree murder in 2009, for an automatic 25 years without parole. His appeal failed in 2012, but he became eligible in 2021, after 15 years in custody, to ask for early parole under the so-called “faint hope” clause.
When Justice George Macintosh and a jury heard Feng’s application last week, his lawyer, Eric Purtzki, asked for a five-year reduction to 20 years because Feng claimed he was a changed man who became a model minimum security prisoner at Mission Institution.
When the jury returned, the foreperson answered “yes” when Macintosh asked if jurors unanimously agreed that Feng’s sentence ought to be reduced, after considering his character, conduct while serving the sentence, the nature of the murder for which was convicted and the victim impact statement.
Macintosh also asked whether eight or more jurors had decided on the number of years for Feng’s reduced sentence. The answer was 22 years, rather than 25.
That means Feng should be eligible for parole in 2028, instead of 2031.
Feng, 45, and accomplice Guo Wei Liang strangled 41-year-old Li and buried her body the next day at Jericho Beach in Vancouver. Feng did not testify at his 2009 trial, where his lawyer claimed he had taken an intoxicating water that temporarily clouded his judgment.
In his charge to the jury on Monday, Macintosh told jurors to consider Feng’s character when he testified before them, his conduct since sentencing in 2009 and the position of the victim, as expressed by Li’s daughter in an emotional letter to the court.
That letter from Ahi Yan Chen was recited in court on Nov. 17 by Crown prosecutor Jeremy Hermanson. Chen, also known as Wendy, urged jurors to reject Feng’s bid for early parole, because of the devastating loss of her mother when she was a teenager.
“Mr. Feng's actions have caused me so much pain,” Chen wrote. “He took the most important person from me. This man was sentenced by a judge for the murder of my mom and I do not believe that he should be able to apply for parole until he has served his sentence that was imposed on him by the courts.”
Macintosh had reminded jurors on Monday that Feng pulled the belt with all his strength while Li begged for her life, and that the sentence was appropriate under the Criminal Code. He also told them their task was to decide whether Feng’s circumstances had changed since the crime and, if so, to determine the correct balance between leniency and deterrence.
Last week in court, Feng expressed remorse, broke down in tears, admitted 100% responsibility for the crime and that his earlier claim that Guo gave him an intoxicating water “was just a lie.”
“I want to say sorry to the victim. Secondly, I want to say sorry to her daughter, because I killed her mom,” Feng said in court on Nov. 15. “She's without her mom, growing up. She might hate me, I cannot stop her from hating me, but if I can, I would ask for [her to] forgive me.”
Feng told the court that he had become addicted to gambling while working with Guo at a fish store after moving to Canada from Guangdong, China. He said Guo told him that Li could be carrying $150,000 to $300,000 in casino chips and he hoped that Guo would split that with him. When she was abducted, Li was carrying only $2,000 in chips and $500 in cash.
Hermanson told the jury that Feng’s evidence was “not always consistent,” because he had refused to accept responsibility for Li’s death for so many years and claimed that he acted impulsively, when he had been planning the robbery for three weeks and accepted he would likely kill Li.
Despite Li’s murder and other loan sharking crimes connected to River Rock, then BC Liberal Solicitor General Rich Coleman disbanded the RCMP’s Integrated Illegal Gaming Enforcement Team in 2009, six months before Feng’s conviction.
Evidence at the Cullen Commission public inquiry 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 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.”
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.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen sat as the one-man commissioner since 2019. Evidence indicated Jin wasn’t charging interest to high-level borrowers and their debts were often repaid in China.
Cullen wasn’t convinced BC Liberal politicians were corrupt. He concluded that they simply failed to do their jobs to keep dirty money out of B.C. casinos.