REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — A Taiwanese gang member testified at his murder trial Monday that he agreed to the assassination of Chinese-American journalist Henry Liu because he believed that it was a patriotic act requested by the Taiwanese government.
Tung Kuei-sen, former member of a Taiwanese criminal syndicate called United Bamboo, has pleaded innocent to the 1984 shooting death of Liu. He faces a sentence of 27 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder with the use of a handgun.
Liu, 52, was killed in the garage of his Daly City home south of San Francisco on Oct. 15, 1984. A columnist for Chinese-language newspapers in San Francisco, he had just finished a biography critical of Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek and Taiwan's president from 1978 until his death of a heart attack in January.
Expression of Regret
In his testimony, Tung said he was duped into believing that Liu was a traitor to Taiwan and that he now regrets his role in the assassination.
"I deeply regret I have killed Henry Liu," said Tung in a written statement read by his interpreter. "I love my country and so I killed Henry Liu and now I have no way out."
Tung, 35, testified in San Mateo County Superior Court that he had never heard of Liu or his writings until he was driven to San Francisco the day before the killing.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said he agreed to act as a gunman at the request of Chen Chi-li, a reputed United Bamboo gang leader who told him that he had received his orders from Taiwan's then-chief of military intelligence, Vice Admiral Wang Hsi-ling.
"He asked first of all, 'Am I willing to help my country?' " Tung said. "I said, 'Yes, of course, because this is everyone's obligation.' And then he showed me he was a member of the intelligence bureau with the ID card of the intelligence bureau of Republic of China (Taiwan)."
He said Chen told him Liu was a traitor who had become a double agent for Taiwan and China after coming to the United States.
Tung said he was recruited by Chen because they both had been United Bamboo members before Tung moved to the United States to set up an import-export business in August, 1984.
Two years ago, Tung testified about his role in the Liu killing while on trial on heroin smuggling charges in federal court in New York. He has said he wanted to testify in order to apologize and possibly lessen his sentence.
Tung described the shooting scene Monday. He said he and Wu Tun rode up to Liu's home on bicycles, hiding in the garage until Liu came in. He said Wu Tun shot first. "I heard a shot and I went forward and I saw this man fall down. At that time, I believed that should be the man I should assassinate. I aimed at his tummy and shot him twice," Tung said.
Tung fled the country after the Liu killing and was apprehended in Rio de Janeiro after stops in Bangkok, the Philippines and Singapore.
Imprisoned in Taiwan
Chen Chi-Li, reputed head of the Bamboo Gang, and fellow gang member Wu Tun were convicted in a Taipei court and are serving life terms in Taiwan. The Taiwanese government has refused U.S. attempts to have them extradited for trial here.
Vice Admiral Wang Hsi-ling and two of his aides were convicted and given life sentences in the case. Chen testified that the admiral and other high-ranking military officers recruited him to kill Liu for his anti-Taiwanese writings.
Tung compared United Bamboo, Taiwan's largest crime syndicate, to service clubs in the United States. "It is a social club, like we have the so-called Lion's Club."