Video of double slaying at store played in D.C. court

By Keith L. Alexander
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blood poured from Li-Jen Chih's chest as he lay on the floor of his shop. He'd just been shot in a botched robbery. His father was lying just a few feet away, also shot, also bleeding. The gunman then fled from the Northeast Washington sundries store.

The graphic images were shown in D.C. Superior Court at a preliminary hearing Tuesday for Christian Taylor, 25, who is charged with killing Chih and his father, Ming-Kun Chih, 59.

Prosecutors played a surveillance video from Lida Wholesale, in the 1200 block of Fifth Street NE, showing the robbery and killings in vivid detail.

The video, played by Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines, showed the shooter, wearing a gray T-shirt and jeans, pacing back and forth in the store about 3 p.m. June 23 as several shoppers milled about.

The man, who was carrying a backpack, walked up and put an item on the counter, as if to pay for it. Then the man paused and pulled out a handgun. He ordered Li-Jen Chih, 32, who was working behind the counter, to fill the backpack with money.

The man ordered the shoppers to move to the back of the store.

"More, more, more!" the shooter shouted at Li-Jen Chih. "Put some more in the bag. More. More. More."

The suspect fired a warning shot. As the suspect reached for the backpack full of money, he fumbled with the gun. Li-Jen Chih reached for the weapon, and the two men wrestled to the ground. The suspect stood and pointed the gun at Li-Jen Chih. He fired and hit Li-Jen Chih twice.

The elder Chih heard the gunshots and rushed to help his son. He began screaming when he saw Li-Jen on the floor. Ming-Kun Chih, 59, carrying a large metal rod, tried to knock the gun out of the shooter's hands. The shooter fired once at the elder Chih's chest and fled.

Despite repeated warnings from prosecutors about the graphic content in the video, several members of the Chih family sat in the courtroom as the video played. Overcome with anger and grief, one of Ming-Kun Chih's adult sons began bucking in his chair. He was restrained by marshals and a victim's advocate from the prosecutor's office and was helped out of the courtroom. A relative of Taylor's sat quietly on the other side of the courtroom with tears running down her face.

The video was played on four 47-inch, high-definition screens mounted in Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr.'s courtroom.

Despite urging from his attorney, Elizabeth Mullin of the District's Public Defender Service, Taylor refused to look at the screens. Instead, he fixed his gaze forward. Taylor, who has two cocaine possession convictions, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder while armed.

Court documents say that two witnesses saw the suspect run from the store and get into a silver Pontiac and that one of those witnesses saw the suspect put the gun in his waistband. A third witness wrote down the vehicle's tag number, court papers say.

Police learned that the Pontiac was registered to Taylor's mother. Police arrived at the Taylor home with a video image of the suspect from the store's camera and identified him as the man in the store, according to charging papers. Another officer -- who patrols the neighborhood where Taylor lives -- also identified Taylor from the video. Taylor was arrested June 29 at a friend's home.

Mullin argued that the man in the video was not Taylor and asked who else had access to the Pontiac. But the judge wasn't swayed. Based on the video and testimony from D.C. homicide Detective Susan Blue, Dixon ordered Taylor held at the D.C. jail until trial. "The threshold of probable cause has been reached," Dixon said.

Immediately after the hearing, one of Taylor's relatives got into an altercation with members of the victim's family. Marshals escorted the Chih family out of the courthouse. At Taylor's June 30 hearing, several of his relatives argued with Blue and were escorted from the courthouse.

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