Saturday, February 13, 1999

Death penalty
sought for
Waianae man

'China' Chong, 47, 'poses
a future danger to society,'
say U.S. officials

By Jaymes K. Song


Richard Lee Tuck Chong in 1972 robbed a 48-year-old woman after sexually assaulting her.

While in prison, he held an ice pick to a fellow inmate's throat while sodomizing him, started several fires in his cell, threw a cup of urine and threatened to kill a corrections officer, according to court documents.

And while on parole, he reportedly killed a man by shooting him in the head over a $100 drug debt.

Federal officials say that Chong "poses a future danger to society in that he is likely to attempt to escape from any correctional institution in which he may be housed."

These are some of the reasons the U.S. attorney's office wants to execute him.

Rap sheet dates to 1961

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Steven Alm filed a 20-page notice in federal court to seek the death penalty against Chong, who is also known as "China."

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has authorized seeking the death penalty for 47-year-old Chong.

Alm said the decision was based on a variety of factors including "whether the murder was committed in a commission with another crime, prior criminal record and the manner in which murder was committed."

Chong, who grew up in Waianae, was charged with murdering 33-year-old William Noa Jr. in September 1997. He also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and conspiracy to distribute crystal methamphetamine. He is being held without bail.

The notice listed dozens of criminal activities dating back to 1961 for armed robbery, sexual assault, theft, burglary, drug trafficking and other activities.

State has no death penalty

However, Chong's Los Angeles-based court-appointed attorney, Marsha Morrissey, dismisses the report. "They have to prove all of those allegations," said Morrissey. "Those are just words on paper."

Morrissey said the case represents the federal government going over the state system, which doesn't have the death penalty. She said it would have been handled "very ably" in state court, but the federal government "just grabbed on to it."

"It's the desire of the U.S. attorney for the district of Hawaii to have himself a death penalty," Morrissey said. "God only knows why. I could only speculate."

Alm took the case after Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle and police Chief Lee Donohue recommended Chong be prosecuted federally in hopes of a stiffer sentence.

The federal government has jurisdiction in Chong's case because it is a "drug trafficking crime in which a murder has been committed," Alm said.

He said he recommended the death penalty.

No one executed yet

The death penalty is based on the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1998 and the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. Chong is the first person against whom the death penalty has been sought in Hawaii since the 1998 act.

He is the fifth person in the past two years charged with a capital crime, and the first for which Alm has sought the death penalty.

Reno denied seeking death penalties for the first three suspects -- Francisco Davalos, Hector Lopez and Renee Beth Smith. No decision has been made on the fourth person, Bryson Jose, who is accused of killing Capt. John Latchum Jr. last year in Waianae.

More than a dozen people across the country have been sentenced to death in federal court, but none have been executed, Alm said.

If Chong is sentenced to death, he likely will be executed in a state that already has the proper facilities.

June Shimokawa of the American Friends Service Committee's Hawaii office said she is strongly against capital punishment.

"To take another's life is really not a peaceful act," she said. "It doesn't honor the sanctity of life given to us by the grace of God."

And Alm knows seeking the death penalty isn't going to be popular with many people.

"I'm not in business for popularity," he said. "I do what I believe is right."

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