Chong sentenced to life for drug-linked murder
By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer
An O'ahu man, who once faced the possibility of being sentenced to death for a drug-related murder four years ago, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole, and was told by the victim's relatives they hope his prison stay is miserable and approaches the torment he caused them.
Advertiser library photo
Richard "China" Chong was convicted of killing William Noa in 1997.
Advertiser library photo
Because a firearm was used in a drug trafficking event that resulted in Noa's death, federal officials sought the death penalty. Chong has never denied shooting Noa, but is adamant that he never thought about or intended to kill Noa when he went to confront him over the drug debt.
In an extended explanation and apology to Noa's family members, many of whom were in court yesterday, Chong stuck by previous statements that he shot Noa when Noa stepped toward him unexpectedly.
In December 1999, Chong pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for the prosecution withdrawing its plans to seek the death penalty, but Chong later tried to rescind the agreement. After a lengthy hearing last month, Kay denied Chong's request to set aside the guilty plea.
Yesterday, Noa's mother, sister and the mother of his children had their say.
Lezlie Noa St. Germain, Noa's sister, told Chong that "only pure evil" could explain his actions the night he shot and killed her brother. "I swore, if given the chance, I would be the first one there to watch him die," Noa said. She said she later realized life in prison without parole would be a more fitting punishment "for someone so cowardly."
Noa's mother, Gerie Muhlenbruch, told Chong there is no relief for the pain he caused. Muhlenbruch said her son "loved his family very much."
"He was the best father he could be. When he was 15, he stood up and stopped the (domestic abuse) in our home," she said.
Raynette Oliva, Noa's girlfriend and the mother of his six children, said between sobs that the shooting filled her "with a loneliness no one else could ever feel."
When he was shot Sept. 24, 1997, Noa had "reunited" with his family.
"What was supposed to be a new beginning turned out to be the end," Oliva said. She was eight months pregnant with the couple's youngest child when Noa was killed.
"I hope, in time, while sitting in his cell, serving a life sentence, he will have enough time to think about what he did," Oliva said.
Chong's lawyers, Michael Weight and Marcia Morrissey, said the root causes that led Chong to a sentence of life in a federal prison without parole began long ago.
Chong was raised by a father "with severe mental disorders who severely abused his son," Morrissey said.
By 8, Chong had become a ward of juvenile court and was sent to a home run by the Salvation Army.
"Mr. Chong is really someone who never had a chance in life," Morrissey said.
Finally, when the time came, Chong turned to address William Noa's family.
"Toward you guys, Raynette and Mrs. Noa, I really sorry I took your people away by accident," Chong said. Swearing on his deceased mother's name, Chong said there was never a time prior to Noa's death that he decided he was going to kill him.
"I not one murderer. If I one murderer, it would say 'murderer' on my record," Chong said.
He asked that members of Noa's family try not to hate him and offered a special apology to Noa's sons and daughters.
"For the children, I sorry, I really, really sorry, but nothing can change that back," Chong said.
In his final remarks, directed at Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson, who prosecuted the case, Chong said attempts to bring the death penalty against him were "unwarranted."
Sorenson told Kay that Chong, despite his statements, had shown no genuine remorse.
"He showed more remorse for selling drugs than for killing William Noa," Sorenson said, before making reference to Chong's extensive criminal history. "It is a long and noteworthy resume, one that should culminate today with our request for life imprisonment," Sorenson said.
David Waite can be reached by phone at 525-8030 or by e-mail at email@example.com