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Jury in Wen Lee Murder Trial Hears Tape of Confession

June 30, 1988|DAVID USHERY | Times Staff Writer

The prosecution in the murder trial of a former Glendale restaurant owner played a taped confession this week in which the defendant told police in Chinese that he planned to kill a business associate and then himself over a deal that went sour.

A jury in Pasadena Superior Court listened intently to the tape as Wen Lee, who is accused of fatally shooting a woman and wounding her husband, described in detail through an interpreter his activities on April 30, 1987, the day of the shootings.

The 64-year-old Lee is charged with the murder of Tuai Li-Chun and the attempted murder of her husband, Johnny Soong, in the former Uncle Lee's Chinese Restaurant, the restaurant he owned in the 100 block of South Brand Boulevard.

The tape was made the day after the shootings in the Glendale Police Department as Lee was interviewed by Detectives Joe L. Jimenez and Jim Peterson. Officer Richard Yuan of the Los Angeles Police Department interpreted the questions and Lee's responses.

On the tape, which is about 60 minutes long, Lee answered questions in Chinese about everything he did that day, starting with the time he woke up that morning. He went on to say that he later placed a revolver and bullets in his car before going to the restaurant to see Soong about a business deal.

The jury heard most of the tape Monday before the court recessed. The rest of the tape is to be played when the trial resumes today.

In response to a motion by Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Murphy, Judge Robert Olson refused to allow the defense to ask any questions of Jimenez or Yuan concerning whether Lee, who speaks little English, was adequately advised of his right to an attorney. Lee submitted to the interview without first talking to an attorney. Olson had already ruled that Lee waived his Miranda rights and that the confession was admissible.

Defense attorney Bennett T. Mori objected to the tape being introduced as evidence, saying he did not believe any members of the jury spoke Mandarin Chinese. He also maintained that having the jury listen to the statements through the voice of an interpreter would be similar to showing only part of a photograph. Olson overruled Mori's objection.

Lee, wearing yellow L.A. County Jail clothing, sat quietly, occasionally writing something as the proceedings were interpreted for him.

The trial opened last Wednesday with testimony from 36-year-old Soong. He testified that he had planned to buy the Chinese restaurant from Lee. But, he said, the business deal fell through when he could not make a $5,000 payment in escrow he had promised to pay by April 30, 1987.

Woman Hit in Head

Lee allegedly came to the restaurant that morning and fired shots, hitting Li-Chun in the head, killing her, and Soong in the shoulder and thigh.

The jury also heard William Chang, a cook at the restaurant, testify that he had broken up a fight between Lee and Soong a week before the shootings. Soong admitted during testimony that he pulled a knife during that altercation.

Chang also testified that he was in the kitchen cooking fried rice at the time of the shootings. He said Soong managed to lock him and Lee in a storage room after the shootings. Minutes later, Lee and Chang broke out of the storage room, and Lee ran out the back door with Chang chasing him.

At one point, Mori asked Chang if he made the statement to Lee, "If you would have killed Johnny Soong I wouldn't have chased you, but since you killed Mrs. Soong, I chased you."

Chang responded through an interpreter, "Yes, because she was a very nice lady."

The trial was scheduled to continue Tuesday, but was postponed until today because of a problem with Lee's health, Murphy said. But neither she nor Mori would comment on Lee's condition.

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