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Friday, January 14, 2000

Killer admits,
dodges death penalty

'China' Chong deals for life
in prison and evades four
other criminal counts

By Debra Barayuga


Richard Lee Tuck Chong faces spending the rest of his life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Chong, also known as "China," was the first person to face the death penalty in Hawaii since 1957. But he avoided it by pleading guilty yesterday to carrying and using a firearm to kill William Noa Jr. at Makaha beach in 1997 in connection with a drug-trafficking offense.

He was to have gone to trial Wednesday.

In a plea agreement, government prosecutors and Chong's attorneys agreed he will serve life in prison without possibility of parole. He will be sentenced July 24, at which time four other charges will be dropped.

Chong had also been indicted for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute crystal methamphetamine, possessing a firearm by a convicted felon, punishing a person for failure to pay a debt, and carrying and using a firearm while committing a crime of violence.

Federal public defender Michael Weight said Chong decided to spare his family and friends and Noa's family the anguish of having to testify. The agreement begins a process of closure for both families, Weight said. "I think its a good, a right and proper thing."

The agreement ensures that Chong will no longer pose a danger to the public, said U.S. Attorney Steve Alm. "In these cases, it's not always about winning or losing, it's protecting people, and I think this result will do that."

Besides the act he was charged with, Chong's potential for dangerousness has always been a major concern to federal prosecutors and was a primary reason the government recommended the death penalty, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson.

Chong had a history of violence in and out of prisons that included sexually assaulting a 48-year-old woman and robbing her, holding an ice pick to a fellow inmate's throat while sodomizing him, and invading a Manoa home and robbing an 82-year-old woman and her 56-year-old daughter.

Coupled with Chong's deteriorating physical condition and the availability of secure federal facilities, the potential violence he poses to other inmates, guards and medical personnel is greatly reduced, Alm said.

Chong, who turns 49 in March, suffers from severe diabetes, a degenerative disc in his neck causing back problems and a degenerative impairment in his hands.

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