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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 25, 2003

Ship's cook spared death penalty

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

The U.S. Department of Justice will not seek the death penalty against a fishing boat crew member from Taiwan who is accused of stabbing to death the captain and first mate aboard a fishing boat in waters southeast of the Big Island last year.

Instead Shi Lei, 21, faces life in prison without parole if he is convicted of the double slaying.

In a recent letter to federal Judge Helen Gillmor, who is presiding over the case, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said his office had received a "directive" from Attorney General John Ashcroft to not seek the death penalty against Shi.

Shi is accused of fatally stabbing the two men in March in international waters after the captain demoted him from cook to the much more dangerous position of fishing crew and rejected Shi's demands that the fishing vessel Full Means No. 2 return to China.

The case is tentatively set to go to trial March 25, and federal Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang on Wednesday granted a request that the second of the two court appointed lawyers assigned to Shi's case be taken off the case.

Michael Burt of San Francisco had been assigned to work on Shi's case along with Pamela Byrne of the federal Public Defender's Office in Honolulu since Burt had previous experience in a case in which the death penalty was sought against a defendant by the federal government.

Kubo's office argued that Burt should be removed from the case since Shi no longer faces capital punishment, and Chang agreed. Byrne and Burt had argued that Burt should be allowed to remain on the case since the trial date is near and Shi had built a rapport with Burt and come to trust him.

Shi is being held at the Federal Detention Center near the airport.