The Orange County district attorney's office announced Monday it will retry a Taiwanese woman whose 1996 murder convictions were thrown out by an appellate court last year because of improper police tactics.
Li-Yun "Lisa" Peng, 50, was convicted of fatally stabbing her millionaire husband's mistress and smothering the woman's 5-month-old son in Mission Viejo. The case made international headlines and spawned a lurid movie in Taiwan with tales of wealth, infidelity and revenge.
But the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the convictions, saying Sheriff's Department detectives failed to advise Peng of her rights and then used her husband, electronics tycoon Tseng "Jim" Peng, to coerce incriminating statements after a grueling, nine-hour interrogation. Last week, the state Supreme Court let the lower court decision stand.
The rulings mean prosecutors will not be able to use admissions Peng allegedly made to her husband that she bit the victim, Ranbing "Jennifer" Ji, 25, during a scuffle before the killings and that she did so "because [Ji] tried to kill me with the knife, I had nothing in my hand."
Her statements and Peng's DNA found in a bite wound on Ji's arm were used in the original trial.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Robert Molko, who tried the case in 1996, will again be the prosecutor. He said Monday that "there is more more than ample evidence" to convict Peng even without the statements she made to her husband. He declined to elaborate.
A trial date may be set within the next two months.
A partner in the San Diego law firm that represented Peng during the appeals process said she is in negotiations to retain another attorney for the new trial. Her new lawyer is likely to ask that Peng be set free on bail during her first court appearance in Orange County, said attorney John Cleary.
Peng has served four years of a life sentence at California Institution for Women in Frontera.
According to authorities, Peng killed Ji and her son, a product of an affair between Ji and Jim Peng, in a jealous rage Aug. 18, 1993. Peng and her husband left the country shortly after the murders, but a cooperative Jim Peng brought his wife back to Orange County so police detectives could question her.
According to court papers, Lisa Peng steadfastly denied she had killed Ji and repeatedly asked for a lawyer during the nine-hour police interview. The detectives ignored her and instead sent her husband into the investigation room and recorded the couple's conversation. The first jury deadlocked and the case was retried. The second jury found her guilty of second-degree murder in Ji's case and first-degree murder in the death of the baby.