Cook convicted of killings
Shi Lei is found guilty under the rare use of a federal law dealing with foreign vessels
A FEDERAL law was used -- possibly for the first time -- to convict a Chinese cook who killed two men aboard a foreign fishing vessel in international waters in 2002.
A federal court jury found Shi Lei, 24, guilty of three counts of violence against maritime navigation. The first count was for the March 16, 2002, seizure and control of the fishing boat, the Full Means No. 2. The second and third counts were for killing the captain, Chen Chung-she, and first mate, Li Dafeng.
Because the crimes occurred in international waters, the U.S. Attorney's Office did not have jurisdiction to charge Shi, then 21, with murder. Instead, federal prosecutors relied on the violence-against-maritime-navigation statute -- approved in the mid-1990s in response to the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea in 1985 -- to prosecute Shi, who was aboard a Seychelles-flagged vessel when he stabbed his colleagues to death.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady said this is the first use of the statute in the District of Hawaii and possibly in the country. He said the United States and 50 other nations have signed on to a treaty to prosecute crimes in the high seas. One of its clauses allows a country to prosecute a defendant who is found within its borders, even if a crime is committed outside its jurisdiction.
Shi faces life imprisonment for each of the convictions when he is sentenced Feb. 23 by federal Judge Helen Gillmor. Earlier in the case, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had decided against seeking the death penalty.
The boat was 13 miles south of the Big Island when Coast Guard officials discovered Shi locked in a storage hold and the first mate's body in a freezer, and learned the captain had been thrown overboard.
Shi's attorney, Richard Pafundi, said he will appeal the jury's decision on a "multitude of novel issues."
"Everything about this case was exceptional, and the case will continue to thrive in the judicial system for another five years," he predicted.
Pafundi said a case like this has never been decided on this statute in the United States, and there were no appellate court decisions.
Brady said the case was fraught with challenges because there was no precedent in the 9th Circuit or any cases that circuit prosecutors could look to as a guide.
"We had to use similar statutes and take a look at aircraft piracy and other terrorism statutes to assist in making certain decisions," he said.
Despite the difficulties, Brady praised the eight-woman, four-man jury for its diligence and seriousness during a "tedious and exhausting" trial, which began Oct. 20.
Witness testimony took four weeks, including videotaped deposition testimony and much translation. Deliberations lasted two days.
During the trial, Pafundi had argued Shi acted in self-defense, with other crewmen who saw him being beaten by the captain and first mate numerous times. On one occasion the beating and kicking lasted for more than 10 minutes, leaving him bruised and bloodied.
Pafundi described the Full Means No. 2 as a "ship from hell," where crewmen suffered threats and violent beatings at the hands of the captain and first mate, were deprived of their pay and were kept from communicating with their families for more than a year.