LAS VEGAS (AP) — The life of a 25-year-old convicted killer described as a hit man and enforcer for a Chinese gang was placed in the hands of a Las Vegas jury on Thursday, with prosecutors calling for the death penalty for the stabbing of a man in a crowded karaoke bar over a $10,000 gambling debt.
Xiao Ye Bai also is accused of shooting one person dead and wounding another outside a karaoke bar in the Southern California city of San Gabriel, in an attack several months before stabbing Wen Jun "James" Li at least 32 times and wounding two other people in July 2009 in Las Vegas.
Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said the Las Vegas attack was at the behest of the Taiwan-based triad known as United Bamboo.
"He got caught in Vegas first, even though it happened to be his second murder," DiGiacomo said before the jury spent an initial three hours deliberating Bai's fate. Jurors will be off Friday and are due to resume deliberating on Monday.
Sparing Bai's life would only put a ruthless inmate skilled in manipulating others and trained to kill with his hands atop the pecking order in Nevada's state prison system, DiGiacomo said during closing arguments on Thursday.
He urged the same jury that on Monday found Bai guilty of first-degree murder, extortion, kidnapping, conspiracy and burglary to send him to death row. The panel could also choose life in prison without parole, 20 years to life in prison, or 20 to 50 years in prison.
Bai spoke to the jury Wednesday for the first time, holding his hand over his heart and apologizing for stabbing Li to death and slashing the two other people.
"I just want to say I am so sorry — very, very sorry," he said. "That's not from my mouth. That is from my heart."
Bai's lawyer, Robert Langford, cast his client as "an abused and frightened man in his 20s" who was hospitalized for three days in China after being beaten as a child by his parents before being sent to a martial arts boarding school and moving as a teenager to Los Angeles in 2005.
Earlier, Bai's mother dropped to her knees from the witness stand and pleaded for mercy from a Nevada jury deciding whether to sentence her 25-year-old son to death for in a crowded karaoke bar.
"Please spare his life," Ying Chen said through a Mandarin interpreter. "Please, I beg you. Don't kill him."
Judge Michael Villani briefly stopped the proceedings and sent the jury from the room, but resumed a few minutes later with no mention of the outburst.
Testimony in the penalty phase detailed Bai's violent upbringing and a psychologist's assessment based on oral interviews and tests that Bai had a frontal lobe brain injury as a mitigating factor in his defense.
Chen testified she hit her young son with a baseball bat to discipline him before he learned martial arts.
DiGiacomo scoffed at the medical finding, noting that no CAT scan or X-rays were done.
"He is a sociopath. He made a career out of killing people. It doesn't really matter if he has a frontal lobe injury or if he was abused as a child," the prosecutor said. "He was a hit man for an international organized crime group. You think he just got picked off the street to be the enforcement arm of United Bamboo?"
Bai didn't testify during his trial, which began Nov. 5 and featured testimony from his ex-girlfriend, Pei "Nikki" Pei. She had faced the same charges as Bai but pleaded guilty before trial to reduced counts of accessory to murder. She could face six to 17 years in prison at sentencing Jan. 10.
Jury deliberations were halted briefly Monday after people identifying themselves as Bai's family members unfurled a large banner in view of jurors outside the courtroom pleading for "fair minded" judgment.
Several jurors saw the display, and Villani asked each juror separately whether it would influence their deliberations. Each said no and the judge decided the jury hadn't been tainted.
Bai's mother acknowledged Thursday that she helped plan the display.