Happened To...
An update on past news

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ship cook was allowed
to change plea

Question: What ever happened to the trial for the Chinese cook accused of killing two crewmen on the high seas?

Answer: Shi Lei, 24, is awaiting trial in U.S. District Court on Oct. 18. He has been charged with interfering with a ship's navigation by seizing control of the Full Means No. 2 after fatally stabbing the captain and the ship's first mate in March 2002.

Shi initially pleaded guilty in January as part of a plea agreement that would have given him 24 to 30 years' imprisonment rather than a life term had he been convicted. But before he was sentenced, U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor granted his request to withdraw his guilty plea after denying earlier requests by his former assistant federal defender, Pamela Byrne.

His new attorney, Richard Pafundi, renewed the request, arguing that Shi entered his plea when federal sentencing guidelines were mandatory. By the time he was to be sentenced, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the guidelines were advisory.

Pafundi argued that the high court's decision essentially modified the terms of Shi's "contract" with the government, and that had Shi known he would not be bound by mandatory sentencing guidelines, he would have gone to trial rather than plead guilty.

The government argued that decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court and affirmed in its Jan. 12 ruling did not affect Shi's plea because he had agreed to the government's recommendation that he serve a term between 24 to 30 years in prison.

Gillmor ruled in April that the prosecutor's argument did not address Shi's initial decision to enter into a plea agreement, and that the high court's Jan. 12 decision created a "fair and just reason" for him to withdraw his plea that did not exist when he made the decision.

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