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Canada Sends Accused Killer Ng Back to U.S. : Crime: Suspect in at least 12 Northern California torture slayings is hastily extradited after ruling by high court.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charles Ng, a former Marine accused of a dozen grisly sex and torture murders in Northern California, was flown here on Thursday minutes after Canada’s high court ended his six-year fight to remain in Canada and avoid facing a possible death sentence.

The Canadian Supreme Court put an end to an international legal standoff by turning down, on a 4-3 vote, Ng’s final plea that he not be forced to return unless authorities here pledged that he would not face the gas chamber.

Within minutes of the ruling, the heavily guarded accused murderer was escorted from a penitentiary in Saskatchewan province and placed on a Canadian plane headed for the United States. He was moved so quickly at the end that his Canadian lawyer did not have a chance to phone him.

After one refueling stop, the plane carrying Ng, two deputy U.S. marshals, Canadian Mounties and Calaveras County Sheriff Bill Nuttall touched down at McClellan Air Force Base at 2 p.m. The prisoner was then rushed to Folsom State Prison outside Sacramento.

Ng will be housed at Folsom between court hearings in Calaveras County, the scene of most of the murders discovered in 1985. He is scheduled to make his first U.S. court appearance today in the county seat of San Andreas.

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Ng, 30, a dishonorably discharged Marine and a survivalist who was born in Hong Kong, faces charges in 11 Calaveras County slayings. The victims were kidnapped, sexually abused and tortured in a cramped bunker made of cinder blocks in the Sierra foothills outside the town of Wilseyville. He faces a 12th murder count in San Francisco.

Leonard Lake, Ng’s occasional housemate and apparent accomplice, killed himself by swallowing a cyanide pill after his arrest in South San Francisco for shoplifting in 1985. Ng’s defense team is expected to blame Lake for the crimes.

“A review of the evidence will show that Lake is the person who committed the murders,” Deputy Public Defender Michael Burt of San Francisco said Thursday. Burt, who will defend Ng, said “he was not involved in the murders.”

After evading capture in the Bay Area, Ng made his way to Canada. He was arrested in Calgary on July 6, 1985, after he shot a department store security guard in a botched attempt to shoplift food. That began a fight over six years and in six courts to prevent his extradition to California, where any of the 12 murder counts could result in a death sentence.

Ng’s lawyers fought his extradition by arguing that California’s death penalty violates fundamental justice and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights.

They contended that Ng could not be returned unless authorities here promised not to execute him. It was a promise that Calaveras County Dist. Atty. John Martin and state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren refused to make.

The Canadian Supreme Court held that although Canada abolished its death penalty in 1976, Canada’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment did not preclude Ng’s extradition. Any execution, the high court noted, would be carried out under U.S. law for crimes committed in the United States.

When the decision was announced in the House of Commons, members of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government applauded vigorously. The court ruling also sent convicted killer Joseph Kindler back to Pennsylvania, where he faces a death sentence.

“Extradition of an individual, who has been accused of the worst form of murder, to face capital punishment in the United States, could not be said to shock the conscience of the Canadian people,” Justice Gerard La Forest wrote in the majority opinion.

In a second majority opinion, Justice Beverley McLachlin said the Canadian government need not demand assurances about the fate of prisoners facing extradition and possible death sentences.

“If such assurances were mandatory, Canada might become a safe haven for criminals in the United States seeking to avoid the death penalty,” she wrote, echoing an often repeated concern among Canadians.

But in a dissent, Justice John Sopinka chastised Canadian officials for not trying to obtain such assurances. Sending Ng back without a pledge that he would not be put to death “shocks the conscience.” Justice Peter Cory in another dissent likened the actions to those of the biblical Pontius Pilate in his “ceremonial washing of his hands.”

“Canada, as the extraditing state, must accept responsibility for the ultimate consequences of the extradition,” the justice wrote.

In Calaveras County, Dist. Atty. Martin, who is under a gag order, issued only a brief statement saying he was “pleased” by the decision. Family members of the victims were under no such restraint. The ruling gave them hope that finally they would learn what befell their loved ones.

Surprised but pleased at the speed of the final actions that led to Ng’s return, Sharon Sellitto, whose brother, Paul Cosner, was among the victims, said: “I hope (Ng) is still trying to figure out what happened.”

“The facts (in a trial) are going to be awful,” said Sellitto, a resident of San Francisco. “But my hope is the trial will allow information to come out that will allow us to locate my brother and send him back to Ohio for a Christian burial.”

“That’s terrific, that’s really terrific!” said Lola Stapley, the Garden Grove mother of another victim, Scott Stapley, upon hearing that Ng was en route back to California.

Her 26-year-old son had gone to the High Sierra in April, 1985, with plans to backpack and return to San Diego State University in the fall and pursue a master’s degree and high school teaching credentials. His body was found in a sleeping bag and identified by dental records. He had been shot and tortured.

Stapley evidently met up with Lake and Ng when he gave a ride to a woman who shared a cabin not far from that of the accused killers. The victims’ suitcases were never unpacked, suggesting they were ambushed upon their arrival.

Like Sellitto, Lola Stapley was angry about the number of years the Canadians spent debating Ng’s return. She called the wait a “hideous nightmare,” in which her hopes were raised only to be dashed time and again.

“It’s ludicrous that the Canadian justice system should appoint itself God, judge and jury (of the California justice system), and it’s just a little bit self-assuming,” Stapley said.

In Calgary, Ng’s Canadian lawyer, Donald MaLeod, said he intended to file a complaint with the United Nations over the final extradition. He was angered that he was denied a final phone call to Ng.

Ng faces 18 charges, including the 12 murder counts. Ng’s trial most likely will be moved from rural Calaveras County to a metropolitan area, possibly in Southern California, where the case has received less press attention.

After Lake’s suicide and Ng’s escape, Northern California police looking into the disappearance of 22 people who had contact with Lake and Ng turned their attention to Lake’s cabin and the nearby cinder-block bunker.

Searching and digging for six months in and around the cabin, investigators unearthed 45 pounds of charred human bones, bone fragments and teeth, the remains of 13 to 19 murder victims. In all, police gathered 2,000 pieces of evidence, including torn pieces of clothing, jewelry and a grisly video tape of a woman as she was sexually attacked.


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