Appeals panel upholds conviction for acts of piracy
The Chinese cook on a ship south of Hilo had killed two men aboard the vessel
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction and 36-year prison sentence of a Chinese cook who was convicted in Honolulu of seizing a Taiwanese fishing boat and killing the captain and first mate in international waters south of the Big Island.
The defense attorney for Shi Lei argued that the government had no right to arrest and try Shi, a Chinese national, under U.S. laws for a crime on a foreign-flagged vessel in international waters.
But the appeals court panel, citing a section in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 10) empowering Congress to pass laws against piracy on the high seas, upheld the conviction yesterday.
"The acts with which Shi is charged constitute acts of piracy," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the panel, "... and federal courts have historically accepted the notion that a pirate may be tried by any state."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady said the decision appears to be precedent-setting and could allow the United States to use current laws to prosecute 21st-century pirates in waters off Somalia and Indonesia, where pirates have attacked cruise ships and oil tankers.
DeAnna S. Dotson, Shi's attorney, said she will appeal the decision to the full 9th Circuit and all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.
"It's not piracy," Dotson said. "There are no facts at all to show piracy."
Dotson said Shi was prosecuted under a 1992 anti-terrorism statute that put a maritime safety treaty into law after Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985.
Shi, 28, was found guilty in 2005 of three counts of violence against maritime navigation.
Brady said this case is likely the first prosecution in the country under the maritime safety law.
Shi was a cook on the fishing vessel Full Means No. 2 and had been at sea for a year in March 2002.
Shi argued that he killed the captain and first mate in self-defense and testified they repeatedly beat and harassed him. After the stabbings, Shi ordered the second mate, at knifepoint, to take the ship back to China.
Other crew members overpowered him two days later.
The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted the ship on March 19, 2002, about 60 miles from Hilo.