Court overturns murder conviction that lacked body

November 20, 1990|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland's first murder conviction without a victim's body as evidence was overturned yesterday by the Court of Special Appeals -- but not because of the circumstances that made the case unique.

The court ruled that evidence used against Gregory Mung-Sen Tu, 61, who was charged with killing his common-law wife in July 1988 and disposing of her body, was improperly obtained. The judges sent the case back to Montgomery County for a new trial.

But Richard B. Rosenblatt, the assistant attorney general who argued the case, said he would first ask the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court, to review the decision.

Mr. Tu, a former restaurateur who received a life sentence after he refused to lead police to Lisa Tu's corpse in exchange for a lesser term, will remain in prison for the time being.

During his trial, prosecutors painted Mr. Tu as a failed businessman and compulsive gambler angry because the woman who had taken his name when she moved into his house in Potomac 10 years earlier was having an affair with another man.

Although police never found Ms. Tu's body and could not prove how she died -- usually a fatal flaw in murder cases -- prosecutors presented evidence to show that Mr. Tu shot her in July 1988 and then carried out an elaborate scheme to make it look as if she disappeared after flying to California to visit a friend.

In September 1988, after Ms. Tu's relatives and friends became suspicious, Mr. Tu was arrested in Las Vegas. Police searched his hotel room with a warrant, where they discovered evidence that he had been involved with prostitutes and gamblers, used aliases and had tried to get a job at at least one Chinese restaurant.

Prosecutors used the evidence in a two-week trial last November to show that Mr. Tu was on a "fling" and trying to establish a new identity, rather than seeking his wife.

But the intermediate appellate court ruled that the evidence could not be used in the trial because it was not among the items police listed on their application for the search warrant, nor was it in plain sight in the hotel room. Moreover, police did not say at a preliminary hearing that they immediately recognized that the evidence was incriminating, which would have allowed prosecutors to use it.

Mr. Rosenblatt said he wanted the Court of Appeals to determine whether prosecutors must have police testify that they immediately recognized the evidence as incriminating. He also is asking whether prosecutors can use that testimony in a retrial.

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