A Taiwan gangster sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Daly City journalist Henry Liu recanted on Friday his earlier story that the chief of Taiwan military intelligence ordered him to kill the Chinese-American writer.
Chen Chi-li, 42, told an appeals court in Taipei, Taiwan, that Vice Adm. Wang Hsi-ling only told him to "teach a lesson" to Liu. Chen headed the three-man hit squad that carried out the murder.
The change in the United Bamboo gang leader's story brought him into agreement with Wang's own statements at a military trial last month during which the intelligence chief was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Because Wang's conviction was based on the argument that telling Chen to "teach a lesson" to Liu was enough to make the intelligence chief guilty of instigating the murder, the change in the gang leader's story has no direct effect on Wang's conviction. But Chen's new story, if true, would tend to shift responsibility for the murder onto Chen and away from Wang or other officials.
Killed Oct. 15
Liu, 52, was shot to death in the garage of his home last Oct. 15. The writer, a naturalized American who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, was a frequent critic of Taiwan's Nationalist Chinese government. His widow, Helen, and others have suggested that he was killed on orders from the government in retaliation for his writings.
Jerome Garchik, attorney for Helen Liu, said Friday in San Francisco that he believes that "Chen Chi-li was lying . . . when he said he wasn't ordered to kill Henry Liu. We feel that there's a cover-up of this crime in Taiwan to protect other people and constrain the political damage that's happening to them."
Chen told the court Friday that he made the accusation against Wang "out of anger," wire services reported from Taipei.
Chen was also quoted as telling the court that he had misunderstood Wang. When the intelligence chief told him to "teach a lesson" to Liu, Chen said, "This did not mean to kill Liu but to beat him and let him lay in bed for a couple of weeks."
'A Significant Development'
A U.S. official in Washington who has followed the case closely said Friday that the change in Chen's testimony "is indeed a significant development, because it impacts on what they might do to Wang Hsi-ling."
"It's unusual for them to change stories between acts," the official said. "You'd think they would have decided a long time ago what they wanted to say."
Representatives of Helen Liu in Taiwan--including Jerome Cohen, former director of East Asian Legal Studies at Harvard Law School--on Friday were allowed to participate for the first time in legal proceedings in the case.
Cohen said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong that he found Chen "not very persuasive" in his testimony Friday.
"He's changed his story so many times, it's hard to know what to think," Cohen said.