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Trial Ordered in Two Slayings : Crime: Woman is accused of murdering her husband's lover and an infant in Mission Viejo. Mate is wealthy Taiwan businessman.

August 27, 1994|JEFF BEAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA NIGUEL — The wife of a wealthy Taiwan businessman was ordered to stand trial Friday for the murder of her husband's lover and the slain woman's 5-month-old son.

A judge also ruled that the prosecution's key evidence against Li-Yun (Lisa) Peng--DNA evidence that links Peng's saliva to a bite mark found on the dead woman's arm--would be admissible in the case.

Peng's defense attorney has decried the high-tech testing as "voodoo," but South Municipal Court Judge Arthur Koelle said he found the evidence reliable.

"The type of evidence used by the Orange County crime lab in this case is generally accepted in the scientific community, as it was testified to by the experts in this hearing," Koelle said at the close of Peng's preliminary hearing.

Peng, 44, who has homes in Rancho Santa Margarita and her native Taiwan, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder.

Investigators allege that she stabbed Ranbing (Jennifer) Ji 18 times on Aug. 18, 1993, in Ji's Mission Viejo apartment. Ji's son, Kevin, was found suffocated in a crib in an adjoining room.

Prosecutors contend that Peng killed Ji, 25, out of jealousy after learning of her husband's extramarital affair. The husband testified that he was the baby's father.

Peng was arrested in January after authorities said they had a DNA link to a bite on Ji's left arm.

Peng's preliminary hearing had spanned three months, with the judge spending much of that time reviewing the volumes of DNA research submitted by prosecution and defense attorneys.

Peng's attorneys fought vigorously to keep out the DNA evidence, contending that the testing is unreliable and submitting more than 1,000 pages of material on the subject to the court.

On Friday, Marshall M. Schulman, Peng's lead defense attorney, assailed the judge's ruling, contending that there is a "raging scientific controversy" over the reliability of DNA evidence.

"It could be just voodoo science as far as I'm concerned," Schulman said.

The attorney said he plans to raise the matter again in Orange County Superior Court, where Peng is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 6.

In court, Schulman argued that there was not enough evidence to hold his client to stand trial. He said that a statement recorded by police--where Peng allegedly said that Ji had attacked her with a knife the day of the murder-- might help clear his client.

It shows "that she was attacked by Jennifer Ji with a knife," Schulman told the judge.

The attorney contended there is no evidence linking Peng to the baby's death.

Outside court, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Molko welcomed the judge's findings that allowed DNA evidence and held Peng for trial.

"This is not the first time DNA has been admitted in any case," Molko said. "We've been doing this for three to four years, and people are not just aware of it--the public is not. This will help focus on the issue."

Molko said that DNA evidence shows that saliva from a bite mark on Ji's arm matches genetic markers of samples taken from Peng. He said that such a match can only be found in one person out of 2 million.

Peng's husband, Tseng (Jim) Peng, a Taiwanese businessman, discovered the bodies of Ji and her infant son when he went to visit them.

Tseng Peng, 51, is chief executive officer of San Diego-based Ranger Communications, one of the world's largest manufacturers of citizens' band radios with factories in Taiwan, Malaysia and China.

In May, he testified that he is the father of Ji's son, Kevin, and had met Ji in 1990 while on a business trip to China. Ji later moved to Mission Viejo near the Pengs' Rancho Santa Margarita home.

Molko said the district attorney's office has has yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Peng.

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