Magistrate releases
4 Chinese crew

The men say they are willing
to stay here to testify in a murder trial

By Leila Fujimori

A federal magistrate released four Chinese crewmen yesterday who have been detained since April 1 as witnesses to a double murder aboard a Taiwanese fishing boat.

All four, who have said they are willing to stay in Hawaii until trial, will go on farm and construction job interviews today because the start of the trial may take up to a year.

They are among 30 crewmen from the Full Means No. 2 who have been held at the federal detention center near the airport. Attorneys have been videotaping depositions to be used at the trial of Shi Lei, a 21-year-old cook accused of murder in the stabbing deaths in March of the ship's captain and first mate.

The four men released yesterday -- Fu Shichuan, Tao Wang, Cao Zheng Wei and Ma Dong -- range in age from 18 to 28. Two are prosecution witnesses and two are for the defense.

Before releasing them, U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang said, "The court appreciates your sacrifice, attention and assistance in this matter."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Loretta Sheehan said the government has a total of six slots to provide live testimony at the trial, thus leaving two more slots open.

The federal government will provide a one-month stipend of $450 to the four men while they look for jobs, Sheehan said. The government is also looking for housing for them, she said.

The crewmen, who have asked to go home, may be free to return to the People's Republic of China as soon as Tuesday.

But Sheehan said some were willing to come back to testify at trial, and the U.S. attorney's office will keep in touch with them.

Sheehan told the court that the four men released yesterday would have to abide by conditions set by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, namely, don't leave Hawaii and don't commit any crimes.

The Pacific Gateway Center, a private nonprofit agency for immigrant services, will assist in the men's transition to life in Hawaii including a briefing on employment laws, such as minimum wage.

"We're afraid people may try to take advantage of them," Sheehan said, since they are used to working hard and long hours.

Myaing Thein, executive director of the center, acknowledged many of the crewmen were from rural areas and may have a knowledge of farming.

"In terms of skills, that was the best fit," she said.

The church and ethnic communities in Hawaii have come forward to offer assistance and jobs.

"It's really great. Hawaii's like that. People have so much aloha," Thein said.

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