The Fremont landscaper accused of assaulting a Cupertino couple, leaving the wife dead, was ordered to stand trial today on charges of murder, attempted murder and burglary. Huaichang Zhao, 46, appeared in Santa Clara County Superior Court for a preliminary hearing that included testimony from the man he is accused of attacking before entering his home and killing his wife. Zhao faces charges of murder, attempted murder and burglary with intent to commit felony.
The final charge was amended in court today after testimony indicated that Zhao entered the home on the Berry Court cul-de-sac intending to tear out the phone lines so nobody could call police. Two Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies who responded to the home on April 17, 2009, testified today that they found Wei Wei Li, 41, lying face-down in a pool of blood on the staircase inside the home’s entrance. Her husband, Bing Yi, was found leaning against a wall on the side of the house, unresponsive and bleeding from the head.
The couple’s daughter, then 10, called 911 just before 9 a.m. She and her brother, then 6, told deputies that “the landscaping guy” had attacked their father with a tool, then entered the home through the front door and attacked their mother as well. Zhao had been doing landscape work on the couple’s newly built home for about a week at the time. He was arrested May 5 in Monterey Park, near Los Angeles. Santa Clara County sheriff’s Lt. Ken Binder, the lead investigator on the case, said a pickax-style landscaping tool was used in both attacks.
He appeared in court this afternoon to share some details from his interrogation of Zhao upon his arrest in Southern California. Speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, the landscaper told Binder that he and the couple argued about the scope of his work. He asked to leave the job and get paid for the week he worked, but Yi allegedly said he would not pay him until the front and back yards were finished. As the dispute escalated, Yi allegedly reached for his cell phone and said he was calling the police, according to Binder.
Zhao told authorities that he grabbed Yi’s arm to stop him, so aggressively that Yi picked up a tool from the yard to defend himself. Zhao said he is bigger and quicker than Yi and didn’t actually think Yi would hurt him, Binder testified. However, he responded by allegedly swinging his own pickax tool at Yi, hitting him twice until he fell to the ground. “He told me he wanted to cause Mr. Yi to miss a month of work, since he had already worked a week and wouldn’t get paid,” Binder said. The landscaper said several times that he wanted to teach Yi a lesson, Binder said, breaking some bones to cost him $10,000 in missed pay as retribution for the $1,000 he was not paying Zhao. It was not clear how Zhao arrived at those figures.
Zhao’s next step was to run to the front of the house, intending to tear out the phone lines, Binder said. “He wanted to make sure she didn’t call police,” he said of Yi’s wife. When she encountered Zhao at the home’s entrance, he hit her multiple times with the same tool, according to Binder. The woman’s son told sheriff’s deputies that he witnessed the attack. According to Zhao’s account, he could not find the phone lines immediately, so he called for the employee who assists him and the two men fled, Binder said. He caught a ride to Los Angeles County with a friend, where Monterey Park police eventually arrested him. Yi testified in court today that the last thing he remembers from the morning of the attack was preparing a meal for his children.
His next memory was of waking up at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center the next day. He testified that both he and his wife had moderate disagreements with Zhao over contract specifics and the quality of some of his work. Yi spoke calmly and referred to his alleged attacker, sitting nearby in red jail garb, as “Mr. Zhao.” He said he hired the landscaper on a referral from a friend. Yi said he spent nearly a week in the hospital after the attack, which left him with impaired vision in his left eye, hearing loss and a constant ringing in his ears. He did not return to work as a software engineer for two months.
At first he could not move the right side of his face at all, he said. Doctors had to stitch his eye closed because he could not blink. That side of his face still is not fully functional, Yi said. “When I smile, it’s imbalanced.”Deputy Public Defender Andy Gutierrez queried Yi repeatedly about potential disagreements, arguments and payment disputes with Zhao, but he did not remember anything serious. Zhao will return to court Feb. 1 to be arraigned on the amended charges.
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