Accused killer’s trial
delayed for second time

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

A federal trial has been pushed back until March for a Chinese fishing boat cook accused in the stabbing deaths of the ship's captain and first mate on the high seas.

U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor set Shi Lei's trial date for March 4 yesterday, but said either side can request more time if circumstances warrant.

The trial, originally set for Sept. 4, then for this month, has been pushed back again as attorneys await word from U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on whether the death penalty is warranted in the case.

Shi, 21, has been in federal custody since March in connection with the stabbing deaths of the captain and first mate aboard the Taiwanese fishing boat Full Means 2.

Prosecutors allege Shi also hijacked the ship before other crew members could regain control and set sail for Hawaii.

Shi has pleaded innocent to charges of seizing a ship by force or threat.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady said the Attorney General's Capital Crimes Unit is scheduled to meet in mid-November with defense counsel, with a decision on the death penalty expected about four weeks later.

"I would like this matter to go as soon thereafter as possible," Brady said.

If Ashcroft allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty, the trial would require a separate phase to determine if it is warranted.

Brady said he did not expect a trial in either instance to last longer than three weeks.

Pamela Byrne, Shi's federal public defender, called that timetable unrealistic.

"I think two weeks or even three weeks is exceedingly optimistic," Byrne said, noting that material witness depositions for 30 Chinese crew members took two months.

She requested that the trial be put off until September, to give the defense time to prepare in case Ashcroft gave approval to seek the death penalty.

Gillmor set the March 4 date but added the issue could be revisited.

"If it becomes more complex, then we may have to move it over," she said.

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