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Judge Declares Mistrial as Defendant in Murder Case Attempts Suicide

July 07, 1988|DAVID USHERY | Times Staff Writer

An attempted suicide by a former Glendale restaurant owner who is charged with murder has prompted a Pasadena Superior Court judge to stop the trial and appoint two psychiatrists to determine the mental competency of the defendant.

Judge Robert M. Olson declared the mistrial last Thursday after hearing a motion from Deputy Public Defender Bennett T. Mori, who said Wen Lee's mental health was deteriorating so much that he could not assist in his own defense.

Neither Mori nor Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Murphy would comment on how Lee tried to take his life. Lee is in satisfactory condition in the forensic inpatient program at the Los Angeles County Jail, sheriff's Deputy Sam Jones said.

Lee's suicide attempt in jail came a day after prosecutors played what they said was a taped confession in which Lee said he intended to kill an associate and then himself over a sour business deal.

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 on South Brand Boulevard. Soong testified that he was planning to buy the restaurant from Lee, but could not make a $5,000 payment he had promised to pay by April 30, 1987, the day of the shootings.

Lee was last present in court June 27 when the prosecution played part of a tape that was made by Glendale police the day after the shootings. Through a police interpreter, Lee said in Chinese that he intended to kill Soong and then himself, according to testimony.

The rest of the tape was to be played June 28, but after a meeting between the attorneys and Olson, the judge recessed the court until last Thursday. Later, Murphy said there was a problem with Lee's health. Mori refused to comment on Lee's condition.

On Thursday, Mori requested that the court grant a mistrial, citing a statute in the California Penal Code that says if a doubt is raised about the competency of a defendant, then all criminal proceedings shall be suspended until the question of competence has been resolved.

The doctors appointed by Olson are scheduled to report to the court July 21.

If Lee is found to be competent, criminal proceedings will resume and the state will have 60 days to bring Lee to trial again, said Murphy.

If Lee is found to be incompetent, then he will be sent to a state facility for further psychiatric evaluation, she said.

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