Man admits killing wife

Woman, her daughter were shot outside county courthouse

March 24, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Columbia man admitted yesterday that he gunned down his estranged wife and her daughter in what witnesses described as a public execution outside the Howard County Circuit Courthouse after a divorce proceeding last year.

Tuse S. Liu, 51, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killing of his wife, So Shan Chan, and the attempted murder of her daughter from a previous marriage, Wing Wu, a day before jury selection was scheduled to start in his trial.

As Liu was led away in handcuffs after his plea, Wu, 27, left the courtroom and collapsed in the hallway. She was taken from the courthouse in an ambulance for the second time.

"The tremendous stress of it all just hit her," said her friend Joseph F. Gaffigan, the lawyer who represented Chan in her divorce case. "How can you describe it? It was just too much for her."

Officials at Howard County General Hospital said Wu was being evaluated last night and no condition report was available.

During yesterday's hearing, Wu, clutching a framed photograph of her mother, was comforted by several friends and her sister from China. As prosecutors read the facts of the case, she sobbed.

Liu stood quietly throughout the proceeding, his head bowed, answering questions in few words through an interpreter. At one point, he seemed confused about the difference between premeditated attempted murder and simple intent. The court recessed for about 45 minutes while his defense lawyer explained the difference to him. They returned, and the guilty pleas were entered.

It is unclear why Liu pleaded guilty instead of going to trial, as was expected. He had entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

But defense attorney Louis P. Willemin said yesterday that psychiatric examinations would not support that plea. Liu also faced a mountain of evidence and testimony from several eyewitnesses and Howard County sheriff's deputies, who arrested him at the scene. He gave a tape-recorded statement to authorities in which he admitted his role in the shootings.

"I have nothing," he told police. "I been here 20 years. I have nothing. I go to jail, I still have nothing. I want to suicide myself, but I shot too quick."

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors said they will seek life in prison for the murder plus 30 years for the attempted murder of Wu. Liu remains at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center until sentencing in June.

On March 11, 1999, a judge granted Chan's request for divorce and ordered Liu to pay alimony.

After the proceeding, Liu left the courthouse, got into a rental car and drove up to Chan and Wu, who were walking across the parking lot. He pointed a shotgun out a window and fired. He then left the car and chased Chan around the parking lot, trying to kill her, as Wu and others scattered for cover.

"Some witnesses described this as a cat-and-mouse game, where [Liu] would move until he could get a shot at Mrs. Chan, and then he would fire at her while Mrs. Chan tried to duck and hide," said prosecutor Lara C. Weathersbee.

Liu ran out of ammunition and began to scuffle with Chan, who took away the shotgun and tried to fend him off with it. Liu then drew a handgun from his belt or pocket, pointed it at Chan and fired from close range.

Wu tried to help her mother but fell to the ground. Liu continued to shoot at both women, who were lying side by side, wounded. He emptied the gun's magazine of ammunition. Witnesses said he walked back toward his car and pointed the handgun to his head before he threw it into a snowbank.

Chan, 52, was shot twice in the back. Another bullet pierced her arm and tore through her chest. A fourth bullet punctured the back of her head and lodged in her brain. She died at the scene.

Wu was hit below her neck and forearm. She also suffered ligament damage to a knee and fractured several teeth. She continues to undergo physical therapy.

Chan met Liu in 1988. She spoke little English, worked as a seamstress in a Baltimore factory and enjoyed tending a garden at her Baltimore home. Liu and Chan had been living apart since 1994. Sentencing is scheduled for June.

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