Defense claimed in killing on ship
A Chinese cook aboard a Taiwanese fishing boat who admitted to fatally stabbing the ship's captain and first mate maintains he did so in self-defense.
Shi Lei went on trial yesterday in U.S. District Court, charged with interfering with the ship's navigation by seizing control of the Full Means No. 2 on March 16, 2002. He is also charged with two separate counts of violent acts against the captain and the first mate, causing their deaths and endangering the safety of the vessel.
During opening statements yesterday, defense attorney Richard Pafundi described to jurors life aboard the vessel, wrought with threats and violent beatings at the hands of the captain and first mate. The men worked hard for a solid year at sea, without pay and unable to communicate with their families.
"It was a ship from hell," Pafundi said.
A crewman is expected to testify that he saw the captain, Chen Chung-she of Taiwan, striking Shi numerous times with his fist, knees and feet in a beating that lasted for more than 10 minutes, leaving him bruised and bleeding.
Crew members will testify that it was the worst beating they had ever seen in their year at sea, Pafundi said.
A couple of hours later on the bridge, Shi brought with him a knife, with no intention of using it, when he was summoned by first mate Li Dafeng. Dafeng, who demanded Shi apologize to the captain, allegedly reached for a metal bar, and a scuffle broke out. "It was two against one on the bridge," Pafundi said. "He was provoked, he responded. He had no choice."
But assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady said corporal punishment was meted out sparingly and only when someone did something wrong or dangerous.
Unhappy that he had been reassigned from his job as ship's cook for the past year to deckhand, with duties that were more physically demanding, Shi stopped working altogether on March 16, 2002. The captain confronted him and hit him several times in the face and head after Shi refused.
Later that evening, crew members saw the first mate and captain bleeding from numerous stab wounds. Both told witnesses they had been stabbed by Shi.
Shi allegedly disclosed to a crewman that he intended to kill six people, but because he had killed two, he was satisfied, the prosecutor said.
Coast Guard officials from Hawaii, who boarded the vessel some 13 miles south of the Big Island, found Shi locked in a storage hold. The captain's body had been thrown overboard at Shi's orders. The first mate's body was in a freezer.
The trial is expected to last about a month. Shi is expected to testify in his defense. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.