Chinese man gets life for double murder after longest jury trial

 

A 25-year-old Chinese national was jailed for life yesterday after a jury in the Central Criminal Court convicted him of the double murder of his friends in Dublin in March 2001.

Yu Jie (25) with a last address at McKee Avenue, Finglas, Dublin, denied the murder of 19-year-olds Mr Yue Feng and Ms Liu Qing in an apartment at Blackhall Square, North King Street, Dublin, between March 12th and March 14th, 2001.

The jury retired shortly before 4 p.m. on Friday. They reached a unanimous verdict shortly before 4 p.m. yesterday. When they emerged from the jury room, one member was crying and the remainder looked drained and exhausted.

They found Yu Jie guilty of the double murder, their verdicts announced in the absence of any friends or relatives of either the victims or the accused. The trial, which began on January 13th, lasted 60 days and was the longest jury trial in Irish legal history.

After the verdict Yu Jie remained impassive, but shortly afterwards, he was smiling and laughing with his lawyers and translators. As he was led away in handcuffs, he shook the hand of one investigating garda, and said, "Good game". To another, he said: "Go to the gym."

Yu Jie strangled Yue Feng on the afternoon of March 12th, 2001. He left the apartment but returned later to wait for Liu Qing. When she came home, he strangled her too. He then dragged the bodies to the couple's bedroom and laid them on a double bed. He returned the next day and again in the early hours of March 14th, when he dosed their bodies with petrol, and set fire to them. He then cycled to the house he rented in Finglas, where one of his roommates found him "the same as usual".

The diminutive killer probably strangled Yue Feng, who was 6 feet tall, from behind, while he was seated on the living room settee, according to the Deputy State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy. There were also marks on both of his wrists that suggested he had been restrained, she said.

A piece of pink cotton cord produced in evidence could have been the ligature used, she told the trial. The cause of Liu Qing's death was also strangulation.

Dr Cassidy said the couple were dead at least 20 hours before the discovery of their bodies by fire officers, who were called to the scene of a fire and explosion in the apartment shortly after 1 a.m. on March 14th.

Forensic examiners found partially evaporated petrol on the remains of the couple.

Yu Jie was first questioned by gardaí as one of the first people to come forward who knew both the victims. He formally identified the bodies on March 15th and gave a lengthy witness statement over four days at the Bridewell Garda station.

But a ceiling-mounted glass dome on the inside of the apartment block at Blackhall Square concealed a CCTV security camera. When gardaí identified Yu Jie entering and leaving the apartment building at times between 2 p.m. on March 12th and 12.56 a.m. on March 14th, and when his roommate Ms Liu Sha Sha also identified him on the videos, he became a chief suspect.Arrested on March 22nd, 2001, and questioned in the presence of a third assistant commissioner of the Chinese police, Mr Zijhin Zou, who was also acting as a translator, Yu Jie changed his story. He identified himself on the CCTV footage and also confirmed his identification on more security footage taken at the USIT office on Aston Quay at around noon on March 13th. But he claimed he returned to the apartment at 12.56 a.m. on March 14th because he was worried for his friends and that the fire explosion occurred when he got to the door. He said he ran away in fear.

However, Yu Jie's appearance on the USIT footage, wearing the same clothes as in the Blackhall Square footage, contradicted his claims that he had got up later in the afternoon of March 13th.

The positive identifications on video tapes and a number of inconsistencies between his witness statement and his interview in custody were part of the case against Yu Jie, as were fingerprints found in the apartment.

The prosecution case was that Yu Jie acted alone. Nevertheless, he had an armed guard throughout his trial. Investigating gardaí confirmed yesterday they had received a general threat from within the Chinese community to Yu Jie early in the trial. The threat was said to have related to disquiet that he was letting his community down. Gardaí said there was no Triad or other organised Chinese criminal link to the case.

The prosecution case, led by Mr Denis Vaughan Buckley SC, with Mr Vincent Heneghan BL, was that Yu Jie's motive was robbery. Yu Jie was aware that the last time Yue Feng, the son of a wealthy Chinese businessman, had gone to China in June 2000, he had returned with some $30,000 in cash. When Yue Feng returned from another visit in early March 2001, Yu Jie believed he would have a similar amount.

But if robbery was the motive, it brought no profit. When Yu Jie was arrested, he had $600 dollars in his wallet and had withdrawn small amounts from Yue Feng's much-diminished account.

Yue Feng's father, Mr Lian Sheng Yue, gave evidence earlier in the trial. He told the court that Feng left for Ireland in February 2000 and returned to China in June 2000 because his grandmother was in hospital.

During that visit, Mr Yue, a company manager in the oil business, arranged for company staff to hand Feng 30,000 US dollars. When Feng returned to China for a visit in late January 2001, he said he still had £5,000 of the $30,000 left in his bank account, Mr Yue said. While he gave him a few thousand Yen as "pocket money", he did not give him any more money, he said, as his business was not going as well.

Mr Yue told the court that he wanted his son to leave Ireland. "I learned through other sources that the environment for study was not suitable for my son. I wanted to transfer him from Ireland to Australia and I went to Australia myself to see what the environment was like." Yu Jie himself had started out as an English language student in Dublin, but held down several part-time jobs. At the time of the murder, he was working in McDonald's in Phibsboro and in a restaurant in Temple Bar.

After the jury's unanimous verdicts yesterday, Mr Justice Henry Abbott excused them from further jury service for life. Sentencing Yu Jie, he imposed two mandatory life sentences for the two counts of murder and refused leave to appeal.

One of the original 12 members of the jury passed away during the 60-day trial, and 11 jurors remained to decide the verdicts. With additional security and translating costs, the trial is estimated to have cost €1.2 million.