Thursday, February 29, 2024

Murder victim stabbed more than 20 times, court hears

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The man accused of killing Elizabeth Zhong is on trial at the Auckland High Court. Times photo Wayne Martin


Whoever killed east Auckland businesswoman Elizabeth (Ying) Zhong stabbed her more than 20 times before stuffing her body into a suitcase and placing it inside her vehicle, where it was eventually found by police.

That’s among the evidence presented on day one yesterday of the murder trial of Zhong’s former business partner Fang Sun in the Auckland High Court.

The Crown alleges Sun killed Zhong, who lived in Sunnyhills, after their business relationship soured and their companies fell into debt.

Sun has pleaded not guilty to murder and is on trial in front of a jury and Justice Neil Campbell.

His trial began on April 26.

Prosecutors Gareth Kayes and Sam Becroft are presenting the Crown’s case, while defence lawyers Sam Wimsett, Yvonne Mortimer-Wang and Honor Lanham are representing Sun.

Due to Covid-19 protocols, the 12 jury members were required to take and pass a Covid-19 test before being sworn in.

Kayes then presented the prosecution’s opening statement to the court.

He said in November 2020 Sun and Zhong’s business relationship became “embittered and hostile”.

Sun believed Zhong owed him and his family millions of dollars.

“There is no dispute Elizabeth Zhong was murdered,” Kayes told the jury.

“The issue for you is, are you sure it was the defendant, Fang Sun, who did it?”

Kayes said Zhong was born in China and met her husband when they were both teachers.

They moved to New Zealand in 1997.

Zhong would set up a business school and in 2012 she met Sun and they went into business.

Two years later they set up a company called Sunbow Limited.

Zhong owned a majority of it with the rest held by Sun and his wife and a Hong Kong-based company.

Zhong was also involved in two film companies and several vineyards, Kayes said.

He said Sun and his wife spent large amounts of time in China.

The couple have a son together.

In March 2018 Zhong had a CCTV system installed at her home.

The business relationship between Zhong and Sun began to deteriorate and he moved out in the first half of 2019.

Zhong had the locks at her property changed.

Kayes said Sun and his companies filed legal proceedings against Zhong, alleging she owed him millions of dollars.

Over the following year, several of her companies began to fail and her properties were sold to repay debts.

Sun was forced to move from one of the properties, in Kumeu, and he moved to a house in Fisher Parade, Sunnyhills.

Kayes said Zhong told people Sun had threatened her.

She applied for a gun licence and told a friend she was afraid Sun “would come and hurt her”.

In December 2019 Zhong went to police and said she had received threats from Sun.

“She told the police officer she feared for her life,” Kayes said.

In March 2020 Zhong told police Sun had been threatening her and in April that year she told police Sun had made death threats against her.

She told her accountant Sun had threatened to kill her.

In May 2020 Sun hired a former police officer, then working as a private investigator.

Sun told the investigator Zhong had “totally ruined his life” and he wanted him to follow her.

Kayes said the investigator would park outside Zhong’s house, follow her, and send Sun messages telling him what she was doing.

In August 2020 the investigator placed a tracking device on Zhong’s Land Rover vehicle.

Police at Elizabeth Zhong’s Sunnyhills home following her violent death. Times photo Wayne Martin

In October that year a court placed two of her companies into liquidation.

She attempted suicide the following day but was found by a friend and admitted to hospital, Kayes said.

He said Zhong was murdered in the early hours of November 28, 2020.

The prosecution alleges her killer entered her house and went upstairs to her bedroom.

Kayes said police found an area of blood there and the carpet was damaged.

Zhong’s killer stabbed her more than 20 times, then put her body into a suitcase and moved it downstairs to the garage, he said.

Her killer also removed the CCTV equipment from inside her home.

Kayes said the killer placed Zhong’s body in the back of her Land Rover.

Blood stains and finger marks were later found underneath the vehicle.

Kayes said the prosecution asserts the killer reached under the vehicle looking for the tracking device in an effort to remove it, but failed to do so.

He said the killer “attempted a clean-up job” at Zhong’s home and then drove her vehicle out of the garage and closed its door.

The killer drove the Land Rover from Suzetta Place to Fisher Parade.

“We know that from the tracking device and CCTV,” Kayes said.

Following this, one of Zhong’s friends unsuccessfully tried to contact her.

The friend went with her husband and daughter to Zhong’s home.

They saw blood on a wall near her bed and phoned police.

The friend’s husband noticed the CCTV equipment was missing from its normal place.

While police were at the scene, Sun’s wife was seen driving back and forth past the top of Suzetta Place.

Police stopped and questioned her and she told them her life had been ruined by Zhong, Kayes said.

The investigator went to where the Land Rover was parked and removed the tracking device from it.

“He turned the device off, threw it away, and deleted the [device’s] app off his phone.”

Police eventually opened Zhong’s Land Rover and found her body inside it.

She had been wrapped in a blanket and had a suitcase placed on top of her.

Kayes said a post mortem was carried out on Zhong’s body.

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.

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

He said Zhong was stabbed more than 20 times in the head, neck, and back, with one 9cm-long cut running from her chin down the front of her throat.

One knife wound she sustained to the back of her neck almost decapitated her, he said.

Wimsett then delivered brief opening remarks to the jury.

He said the picture they see in a couple of weeks just might be different from the picture presented by the prosecution.

Wimsett said there would be a contest during the trial over the tracking device, the CCTV and DNA.

“Fang Sun did not kill Elizabeth Zhong. That is his position. It was not him.

“He did not kill her, put her in her car, and park it outside his home.”

Wimsett said he would refer the jury to “other suspicious characters in this case, of which there are a few”.

He said the jury shouldn’t judge the case based on what the prosecution said at the start.

“You’ve got to look at the evidence in an unbiased way and see if it fits.

“The evidence says you won’t be able to say it was Mr Sun.”

Wimsett said Sun “is not as stupid as to have done some of the things that were done here”.

Sun is being assisted throughout the trial by an interpreter.

The trial adjourned on Tuesday afternoon and is set to continue on April 29.

It’s expected to take six weeks.

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