The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday upheld the murder conviction against a man who beat to death the owner of the Majestic Dragon Restaurant in Ipswich in 2011. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Lee.
During the early morning hours of September 27, 2011, the 62-year-old victim was sleeping in his office in the restaurant (which he did several nights per week). Three men, including the defendant and his codefendants, Jun Di Lin and Cheng Sun, broke into the restaurant through a ventilation shaft in the kitchen. The defendant had worked briefly at the restaurant as a dishwasher during the previous year. The men confronted the victim and demanded he open the safe in his office. When the victim was unable to do so, he was bound with cords and a belt and beaten to death. The cause of death was multiple blunt force and sharp force injuries and asphyxia. The cops initially did not have any suspects, but Lin contacted authorities two days later to admit his involvement in the crime. Lin cut a deal with the government and agreed to testify in exchange for being charged with manslaughter (rather than murder). Lin was eventually sentenced to 15-25 years in prison. He testified at trial that he met the defendant and Sun two weeks earlier. The defendant asked Lin if he knew any wealthy people and began plotting to commit a robbery. About an hour and a half before the victim was killed, the defendant called Lin and asked for a ride to the Majestic Dragon. Lin drove the defendant and Sun to the restaurant and waited in his car while they walked toward the back of the building. Shortly thereafter, the defendant and Sun returned and asked Lin to help them steal a safe. Lin entered the building (through the roof) with the other two men and Lin could hear the victim screaming. Lin walked into the office and saw Sun holding a knife to the victim’s throat. Lin and the defendant tied up the victim and after the victim failed to open the safe, the defendant beat him with a crowbar and a hammer, leaving him to die on the floor. Lin then drove the defendant and Sun to Connecticut. The defendant also testified at trial and claimed the other two men had committed the murder while he stayed outside the restaurant. A Salem Superior Court jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and he appealed.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument involved the interpreters who were assigned to translate the testimony to him during his court proceedings. The defendant informed the judge early in the case that he speaks Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese). Cantonese interpreters were in court for the defendant’s first 23 court appearances. During the fourth day of jury selection, the defendant claimed his native language was not Cantonese, but another Chinese dialect (Taishanese). The defendant claimed he had difficulty with some of the translations from the interpreter, but acknowledged he spoke Cantonese in addition to Taishanese. Two Cantonese interpreters who had worked with the defendant testified that he spoke Cantonese and they had been able to communicate with him. The trial judge concluded the defendant spoke Cantonese fluently, but agreed to provide a Taishanese interpreter for the remainder of the trial. The defendant didn’t like the new interpreter either, claiming he spoke an “old school” version of Taishanese that was hard to understand. The judge told the defendant he had received the interpreter he wanted and allowed the trial to continue.
The Supreme Judicial Court noted that a non-English speaker is entitled to be provided with a competent interpreter during court proceedings. In this case, there was ample evidence the defendant spoke Cantonese. During the four years of pretrial proceedings, the defendant told the judge Cantonese was his native language. The Cantonese interpreter testified that she always understood the defendant’s Cantonese statements. The defendant’s argument that the Taishanese interpreter was incompetent was also not supported by the record, as the defendant was able to answer approximately 625 questions posed by his attorney (and translated by the interpreter). He also answered 300 translated questions asked by the prosecutor. Accordingly, the SJC had no problem concluding the defendant received adequate translation services and understood what was happening at his trial.
With his conviction being affirmed, the defendant will now spend the rest of his life in prison.