Former cook sentenced to 36 years for boat killings
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Curtis Lum
A former cook on a Taiwanese fishing boat was spared a lifetime behind bars when a federal judge yesterday sentenced him to 36 years in prison for stabbing to death the vessel's captain and first mate and seizing control of the boat four years ago.
Lei Shi, 25, faced a life sentence without parole after he was found guilty last November of stabbing to death Chen Chung-She, the Taiwanese captain of the Full Means No. 2, and first mate Le Da Feng, of China, in international waters on March 14, 2002. The captain's body was tossed overboard and the first mate was stored in the boat's freezer as Shi took control of the vessel.
Crew members managed to overpower Shi, lock him in a storage room and make their way to Hawai'i, where Shi was arrested by federal authorities. A federal jury on Nov. 16, 2005, found Shi guilty of seizing and exercising control of the vessel and causing the death of two people, as well as an act of violence that endangered the safe navigation of the vessel.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor could have sentenced Shi to life in prison. In the federal system, there is no parole.
But Gillmor yesterday rejected the guideline and the government's request for a life sentence. She acknowledged that Shi was responsible for the deaths, made a "deliberate attempt" to take control of the boat and imperiled the lives of the other crew members.
Gillmor also said she was concerned about Shi's "capacity for violence" and the means he took to get his own way.
But in handing down the sentence, Gillmor said she was taking into consideration the tough conditions on the Full Means No. 2 and the corporal punishment that Shi endured on the boat. She said she also would consider Shi's age and felt it would be "inappropriate to give him life."
Shi, in a brief statement through an interpreter, continued to proclaim his innocence. He had said he acted in self-defense following brutal beatings by the two men.
"I want to say something," Shi told Gillmor. "I'm not guilty. That's all I want to say."
Shi showed no emotion when he heard the sentence. He shook hands with his attorney, Richard Pafundi, before being returned to the Federal Detention Center.
Shi, who will be transferred to a maximum-security facility on the Mainland, will receive credit for the four years he has already spent in custody.
"It could have been worse. The defendant gets a break," Pafundi said. "I would say, ordinarily if you're found to have killed two people, the chances of being sentenced to life in prison are probable."
Pafundi asked Gillmor to sentence Shi to 20 to 30 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady called the sentence "fair."
"Obviously we requested life and that's what we wanted. We thought that was appropriate. But I'm not going to second-guess Judge Gillmor's sentence," he said.
Brady argued at trial that Shi killed the two men out of revenge because Shi was angered after he was reassigned from his cook duties to a much harder job on the fishing lines. He said the attacks on the two men were "vicious and premeditated."
Pafundi said Gillmor was in a tough situation because Shi was the first person to be convicted of these maritime charges. He said he will appeal the verdicts because he questions whether the U.S. government has jurisdiction over the incident because it happened in international waters.
In January 2004, Shi pleaded guilty to the charges, but was allowed to withdraw his plea. Under terms of the agreement, Shi would have faced 25 to 30 years in prison.
Once Shi completes his sentence, he will be placed on five years of supervised release. He also could be deported to China, where he could face harsher penalties, including death.
Reach Curtis Lum at email@example.com.