Friday, December 1, 2023

Defence casts doubt on Crown case in murder trial

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The murder trial of Fang Sun at the Auckland High Court is drawing to a close. Times file photo Wayne Martin

The defence has made its closing argument in the Auckland High Court murder trial of Fang Sun, who’s accused of killing his former business partner, east Auckland woman Elizabeth (Ying) Zhong.

Sun has pleaded not guilty to Zhong’s murder. His trial got under way in front of a jury and Justice Neil Campbell on April 26.

The Crown case is being presented by prosecutors Gareth Kayes and Sam Becroft.

Defence lawyers Sam Wimsett, Yvonne Mortimer-Wang and Honor Lanham are representing Sun.

The court previously heard Zhong, 55, was stabbed to death inside her home in Suzetta Place, Sunnyhills, in the early hours of November 28, 2020.

Her killer put her body in the boot of her Land Rover vehicle and drove it a short distance away to Roadley Avenue, where police found it parked later that day.

Zhong’s body had been wrapped in a blanket and had a suitcase placed on top of her.

She had been stabbed in the head, neck and back more than 20 times.

Kayes previously told the jury a post mortem was carried out on Zhong’s body following her death.

As part of that procedure, her fingernails were clipped and swabbed for DNA.

Zhong’s blood was found on them and male DNA was found under the nails from her left hand, Kayes said.

Analysis of the DNA showed “strong scientific support” that it came from Sun, he said.

Zhong and Sun met in 2012 and went into business together in 2014, setting up a company named Sunbow Limited.

They had shared interests in various businesses including in film production and vineyards.

Their business relationship soured when their joint companies fell into debt.

Sun believed Zhong had misappropriated funds and took a civil litigation against her alleging she owed him and his family millions of dollars.

He hired a private investigator to track her movements and send him updates on her whereabouts.

The investigator placed a tracking device on Zhong’s Land Rover. The device was removed from the vehicle before it was found by police.

Kayes earlier said only Sun and the investigator knew the device had been on Zhong’s vehicle.

Zhong had told police and other people that Sun had made death threats against her and she feared for her life.

She’d had CCTV installed at her home and applied for a firearm licence.

Sun was living at a property in Fisher Parade, a short distance from Zhong’s home, at the time of her death.

She was reported missing to police on the morning of November 28, 2020.

A search was launched and her home was examined. Her body and vehicle were found by police a short time later.

The Crown alleges Sun killed Zhong after they fell out due to their failed business ventures.

The defence case is Sun is innocent and Zhong was killed by someone else.

Wimsett delivered the defence’s closing argument to the jury on May 31.

He showed its members a photo taken of Sun at a McDonald’s restaurant after Zhong’s death.

He said they could see Sun’s “belly” in the photo and the person seen walking near Zhong’s home in CCTV footage around the time of her death was “a different figure”.

“They were lean and wearing clothes that did not fit Fang Sun and that he does not own.”

Wimsett said the male DNA found under Zhong’s fingernails, which the Crown said was Sun’s, could “equally” belong to Sun’s son.

“A series of tests were done [on the fingernails] and one came back with no DNA for Fang Sun.”

Wimsett said Zhong’s daughter wrote to the judge presiding over the civil case Sun had taken against her, and emailed the lawyers involved, saying Zhong was too sick to take part, but Sun found out she was at SkyCity Casino.

The defence lawyer said Zhong visited the casino 381 times between January 2017 and November 2020 and had lost $238,000 by gambling there.

Wimsett said on the evening of November 27, 2020, Sun was talking to friends via a group chat about the Hong Kong stock market.

The next morning he sent a document to someone about purchasing shares in a company.

“There is nothing to suggest in that time that Mr Sun accessed the internet for anything sinister,” Wimsett said.

“There is nothing about removing tracking devices … or anything that might assist his preparation.”

Wimsett said on the morning of November 28, 2020, Sun phoned his son at 8am and then was “sitting at home” for three-and-a-half hours.

He said that was inconsistent with Sun having killed Zhong and parking her vehicle around the corner from his home.

Wimsett said a police officer who gave evidence during the trial said he observed no marks or scratches on Sun’s arms when he spoke to him in the days following Zhong’s death.

He said Sun was “too big, too chubby, and had too much of a belly” to be the person seen walking in the area by an eyewitness around the time Zhong was killed.

Wimsett told the jury that Sun’s actions showed he had a respect for the correct way of doing things.

When he believed Zhong had misappropriated funds from their business he engaged a prominent law firm, hired a private investigator, gathered facts and evidence and presented a case to police.

“He gathered evidence of Elizabeth Zhong at SkyCity gambling.

“He brought himself to the attention of the High Court. He told the whole world about it.

“He is not a complete idiot. He is fully aware that everyone will look at him if something happened to Ms Zhong.”

Wimsett then turned to the threats Zhong alleged Sun had made against her.

He said there is no doubt Zhong told people Sun had threatened her.

Wimsett said she had CCTV installed in her house in March 2018 and she and Sun celebrated Christmas together in 2018.

She applied for a firearms licence “well before” things soured between her and Sun, he said.

“The defence says the gun licence has nothing to do with Mr Sun.”

Wimsett told the jury to be careful to accept what Zhong told people about the alleged threats.

He said she lied in an affidavit when she claimed she had not been served with documents but that was a “blatant lie” as there was evidence the documents had been served on her.

Wimsett said Zhong told police and her lawyer she had received death threats from another man and said she had received a threat from a third man on Sun’s behalf.

He said Zhong made the claims to delay the civil proceedings Sun had taken against her.

“The defence says Ms Zhong could have sought a trespass notice or restraining order against Mr Sun but never did.”

Wimsett said in February 2020 Zhong and Sun met in-person at least twice.

In mid-February that year Sun made a police complaint alleging Zhong had misappropriated funds.

In early March, Zhong complained to police about an alleged death threat from Sun.

“She wanted to cast people on the other side in a sinister light,” Wimsett said.

The defence lawyer again told the jury Zhong had said things that weren’t true.

He said on one occasion she told someone she was having serious health issues and was in Wellington, but was actually in Auckland and went to SkyCity the next day.

Wimsett said she asked her daughter to lie by sending a text message to Zhong’s former boyfriend David Zheng saying Zhong was in hospital and asking him to pay an amount of money back to her.

“You need to be careful, because a lie repeated is still a lie,” Wimsett said.

“Just because Ms Zhong said it several times doesn’t make it true.”

Justice Campbell is expected to sum up the case to the jury on Wednesday.

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