Depositions start in
fishing-boat cook’s
murder case

An argument that the United States
lacks jurisdiction in the case is rejected

By Leila Fujimori

Depositions of witnesses in a double murder case against a fishing-boat cook are scheduled to begin today despite objections that the United States does not have jurisdiction.

U.S. Judge Helen Gillmor denied a motion to quash jurisdiction filed by attorneys for four of the 30 crewmen being held as material witnesses against 21-year-old Shi Lei.

Shi allegedly murdered the Taiwanese captain and Chinese first mate aboard the Taiwanese fishing vessel, Full Means No. 2, in international waters last month.

Gillmor ruled there is sufficient jurisdiction to hold the crewmen as witnesses, but stopped short of ruling whether the United States has jurisdiction in the case itself because Shi's defense has not challenged it.

Alan Warner, who represents one crewman, argued that the court lacks jurisdiction because there are no links between the alleged crimes and the United States. Neither the suspect, the victims nor the boat are American, and Warner suggested the government "simply wash their hands of it."

He said the United States made its mistake in charging Shi. He suggested Shi be extradited to the People's Republic of China, Taiwan or the Seychelles, where the boat is registered.

"These are the more appropriate places of prosecution," Warner said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Brady countered that if the offender is later found in the United States, jurisdiction is established.

He said the Republic of the Seychelles has waived jurisdiction.

Gillmor stated there may be valid argument as to jurisdiction under treaty, which Warner brought up, but he failed to support such an argument.

San Francisco lawyer Michael Burt, who specializes in death penalty cases and was appointed by the court to represent Shi as co-counsel, said the assertion of jurisdiction is unique since the only connection to this country is that the ship was brought into U.S. territory.

As to the possibility of the death penalty, he said, "I don't know of another case like it in which the government is trying to get the death penalty for someone young with a lack of criminal history."

The death sentence is usually reserved for the "worst of the worst," he said.

In a status conference before Magistrate Kevin Chang, Brady requested the witnesses be detained until all the depositions are taken since questions may arise after questioning other witnesses. He said they would not have any way of bringing the witnesses back if they are released.

Assistant Public Defender Pamela Byrne agreed, saying it would be in Shi's best interest.

Chang said he would like to see if the men can be housed elsewhere such as the YMCA after they have been deposed, and said it was time the Immigration and Naturalization Service become involved in the proceedings.

Chang denied requests to allow Shi and another crewman release from solitary confinement into the general prison population. The crewman, Wang Fu Xiang, was arrested Sunday as a material witness, Brady said.

The crewmen have filed suit in federal court for wages. The boat, which was set to sail Monday, was seized that day in connection with the suit.

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