Friday, February 19, 1999

Death-penalty defendant
urges case be dismissed

His lawyers say their case was hurt
when papers were sent to the
prosecution accidentally

By Debra Barayuga


Defense attorneys for a Waianae man charged with first-degree murder in Hawaii's first death penalty case since capital punishment was abolished over 40 years ago are asking that the case be dismissed.

The federal Public Defender's Office here inadvertently sent confidential defense materials in the Richard Lee Tuck "China" Chong murder case to the U.S. prosecutor handling the case, said U.S. Attorney Steve Alm.

The defense did not specify how this would harm its case. The materials have since been returned, Alm said.

While his office takes every motion seriously, "our position is that it was their error and we responded appropriately," Alm said. "Uppermost in our mind is Mr. Chong gets a fair trial with appropriate representation, and we just want to make sure he is fully informed and is ready to proceed with his counsel."

U.S. District Judge Alan Kay yesterday heard court-appointed attorney Marcia Morrissey's arguments for dismissal, saying anything that U.S. Assistant Attorney Larry Butrick may have seen will hurt their case. One alternative suggested was to remove Butrick from the case.

The court has asked federal prosecutors to submit by Wednesday all information that was provided to the defense to see what the government knew before the error was discovered, Butrick said.

Butrick received the confidential documents late Jan. 4 and returned them to the defense on Jan. 6.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno recently authorized seeking the death penalty for Chong.

Alm last week filed a notice in federal court seeking the death penalty based on several factors, including whether the murder was committed in the commission of another crime, Chong's criminal history, and the manner in which the murder was committed.

Chong is charged with shooting William Noa Jr., 33, in September 1997 over a $100 drug debt. Chong, who also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and conspiracy to distribute crystal methamphetamine, was on parole at the time.

City prosecutor Peter Carlisle and Honolulu Police Chief Lee Donahue recommended that Chong, who has a violent criminal history, be prosecuted on the federal level, where penalties are harsher. His trial is set for Jan. 19, 2000.

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