An ex-Marine held in Canada and linked to the disappearance or death of 22 Californians could avoid trial in the United States for years because of provisions in an extradition treaty and the possibility of Canadian prosecution, officials said today.
Charles Ng, 24, was arrested Saturday in Calgary, Alberta, after allegedly wounding a security guard at a department store food market during an attempted robbery. He has been connected to a suspected sex, torture and murder ring in a Calaveras County cabin where nine bodies and 40 pounds of human bone fragments have been found.
The arrest of Ng ended an international manhunt but raised several legal complications.
Canada has outlawed capital punishment and placed procedural obstacles in the way of extraditing fugitives to jurisdictions, such as California, that allow the death penalty.
Canadian Justice Department official William Corbett said the treaty provides that Canada "may" seek assurances that Ng will not be executed but authorizes Canadian Attorney General John Crosbie to extradite Ng without inquiring about California law.
"He may say this is too heinous a crime for us to hold back," said Corbett, general counsel for criminal prosecutions.
Corbett added, however, that legal hurdles could keep Ng out of U.S. hands for at least three years. A case involving a U.S. fugitive from a Pennsylvania murder charge has been in Canadian courts for 2 1/2 years, he said.
Defense attorneys said they will fight extradition. Ng is charged in federal and California warrants with kidnaping, false imprisonment and unlawful flight.
California Deputy Attorney General Bob Jibson said Canada requires affidavits from key witnesses and enough evidence to support all charges that may be filed against Ng. Since local investigators are still searching the cabin area and have not prepared a murder indictment, the paper work is expected to take weeks or months to prepare.
Canadian authorities could try Ng on local charges before ruling on extradition. Some officials suggested that Ng, a Hong Kong native and a British citizen, could be deported to Hong Kong as an undesirable alien. British Embassy officials in Washington said today that they did not know whether the territory's government would accept Ng or whether it then could extradite him to the United States.
Ng was jailed Saturday on charges of attempted murder, theft and unlawful use of a firearm after he allegedly tried to escape arrest for shoplifting cookies and a package of herring at a food shop in a department store basement. Calgary police said Ng slightly wounded an unarmed security guard in the hand before being subdued.
Ng, handcuffed and dressed in dark green prison overalls, appeared briefly today in a Calgary courtroom where a judge ordered a preliminary psychiatric examination. Prosecutors said later that Ng had been found fit to stand trial.
Calaveras County Sheriff's Sgt. Ron McFall told reporters today in Calgary that he and a San Francisco investigator questioned Ng for five hours Sunday in Calgary and "found it beneficial. I can't say we're disappointed."
Ng told authorities in Canada that his alleged partner, Leonard T. Lake, was responsible for murdering at least six of the missing persons, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
[Lt. George Kowalski, chief of the San Francisco Police homicide squad, said of Ng's remarks, "This is nothing we didn't expect. He's blaming the other guy, the dead guy," the Times reported.]
California authorities believe that Ng was the accomplice of Lake, who committed suicide June 2 after being arrested on a charge unrelated to the suspected murders. The two men lived together in the Calaveras County town of Wilseyville, 60 miles southeast of Sacramento on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Acquaintances of Ng said he was often in trouble as a boy in Great Britain and the United States and developed a fantasy that he was a reincarnated "Ninja warrior," one of the black-robed assassins who roamed medieval Japan. While in the Marine Corps, Ng was convicted of stealing $11,500 in weapons and once broke out of a stockade. At the end of his sentence, the Marine Corps did not recommend his deportation.