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Man convicted in Seattle's Wah Mee massacre gets parole

October 26, 2013|By Matt Hamilton
  • Tony Ng, shown in an undated photo from Washington's Department of Corrections, will be released by early December for deportation to China. He was convicted in connection with the 1983 Wah Mee massacre in Seattle that left 13 dead at a Chinatown gambling club.
Tony Ng, shown in an undated photo from Washington's Department of…

It became known as the Wah Mee massacre: 14 people were bound, robbed and systematically shot in the head. Seattle police arrived and found the victims lying face down in pools of blood.

One survived the Feb. 19, 1983, rampage, but 13 died. What happened at the Wah Mee Club -- the name means "beautiful place" in Chinese -- remains the deadliest mass shooting in Washington state history.

And this week, the Washington Department of Corrections decided to release from prison a man convicted in connection with the Wah Mee killings.

Unless Gov. Jay Inslee intervenes, Wai Chiu “Tony” Ng will be let out of prison and transferred to federal custody by early December, according to case files obtained by the Los Angeles Times. He will then be deported to China.

The decision was made by a majority of the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.

“It was a tough decision, especially because of the nature of the crime,” said the board’s chair, Lynne DeLano, in an interview Saturday with the The Times. “But I think the board ultimately has to look at what our statutory responsibility is. If we only looked at the crime itself, we wouldn’t release anybody.”

Two other men, Kwan Fai “Willie” Mak and Benjamin Ng, were convicted on multiple counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Ng, who is not related to Benjamin Ng, was convicted in 1985 on 13 counts of first-degree armed robbery and one count of second-degree assault for the attack on the Chinatown gambling club.

A judge imposed a minimum sentence of 35 years, with the possibility of parole, while prosecutors recommended a term 54 years. Thus far, Ng has served just over 28 years.

Ng has appeared before the sentence review board but only when he completed  different blocks of time which made up his overall sentence. In 2006, when he moved to his second-to-last block of time, family members of the victims chafed at the prospect of Ng's eventual release.

"Everyone is given the opportunity to make choices, and Tony Ng made the wrong choice," Hazel Chin, daughter of one of the victims, told the Seattle Times at the time. "I will never be at peace knowing Tony Ng is back on the streets. I ask you to grant us the justice we deserve."

A hearing in August marked the first time the board could consider his release.

When asked to recount his role in the fateful February night, Ng said he tied up five of the victims and then left the Wah Mee club before the shooting began, according to case files. Ng said he was coerced into helping by the other two assailants, who threatened to hurt his family. So why, he was asked, did he flee to Canada after the night of the shootings? His mother told him to.

As Ng delivered his account, DeLano said, he came across as “nervous,” “humble” and “very polite.”

“Mr. Ng was a little bit unusual in terms of other offenders,” DeLano said, noting his lack of prior criminal offenses. “Most of the offenders we deal with have a fairly long history.”

In prison Ng has been a “model inmate,” according to his parole hearing documents. He works has a teacher’s aide and teaches drafting skills, and his most recent psychological examination concluded he was a low risk to reoffend. He even folds origami structures which are sold at a Seattle church and donated to youth programs.

“In all of his hearings over the years, Mr. Ng has consistently been commended for his positive behavior, attitude and work in the prison setting,” says the case file.

Finding Ng to be fully rehabilitated and fit for release, board members decided Thursday to set him free.

According to Washington state law, the governor has the option of rescinding the board’s decision or request a new hearing.

A spokesman for Inslee released a statement to The Times indicating that a course of action was not yet determined.  “This is a very important case, and the governor and his legal staff will thoroughly review the board's decisions in the coming days,” the statement said.

If the governor chooses not to intervene, Ng will be released between the end of November and first week of December. Because Ng came to the U.S. illegally in his teens, he will be deported to China by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Twitter: @MattHjourno

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

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