Defense attorney Wayne Fricke and Pierce County deputy prosecutor Brian Wasankari agreed on two things Friday: Xing M. Zhu suffers from a mental illness, and she killed her mother.
The two parted ways when it came to what sentence Zhu deserved for her first-degree manslaughter conviction.
Wasankari asked for 10 years for Zhu, who first bloodied Yu Sang Li with a bar stool two years ago and then finished the 59-year-old woman off by strangling her with her bare hands.
Fricke wanted his client sentenced to out-of-custody treatment, arguing she wasn’t a danger to society and needed help more than incarceration. Delusions that her mother and father intended to kill Zhu and her husband drove his client to homicide, Fricke said.
Superior Court Judge John McCarthy ultimately sentenced Zhu to nine years, two months in prison, saying she’d already received a break when prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that allowed her to plead guilty to manslaughter as opposed to second-degree murder.
His decision came at the end of a protracted hearing that included testimony from a psychologist at Western State Hospital, statements from the lead detective on the case and two emotional outbursts from Zhu, one of which forced an unscheduled recess.
The case began in August 2010 when Zhu called 911 at least twice the same day to report someone had been killed at her home in the South Hill area. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to find Li dead. Zhu told them she did it, court records show.
“I had to kill my mom,” she said.
It became clear soon after her arrest that Zhu suffered from mental illness. She was sent to Western State for evaluation and originally was found to be incompetent to stand trial. State mental-health evaluators later changed that finding after treating her for several months.
Psychologist Greg Gagliardi, who evaluated Zhu in July 2012, testified Friday that it was his opinion Zhu truly believed her parents meant her and her husband, Carland Lau, harm despite all evidence to the contrary.
Li was bearing gifts for Zhu and the defendant’s four children when she traveled from California to see her daughter.
“In my opinion, this wouldn’t have occurred without these delusional beliefs,” Gagliardi said. “This is a tragic case of tunnel vision. She saw only one way out.”
The psychologist said Zhu still maintains delusions about her father, who remains in California.
Detective Sgt. Tim Kobel made a statement on behalf of the prosecution.
“If Xing Zhu is permitted to walk with credit for time served, we have a problem,” the veteran detective said. “I’m still concerned for the family’s safety.”
Genie Lau, the victim’s great niece, asked McCarthy to put Zhu away for the maximum under the standard range: 10 years and six months. Anything less would “be a dishonor to our loss,” Lau said.
Zhu lost control of herself during Lau’s statement, shouting angrily at the young woman, standing up from the defense table and sobbing.
“That woman is a liar! That whole family is liars!” Zhu said.
Corrections officers and Fricke eventually led Zhu out of court, and McCarthy called a recess. She was brought back to court several minutes later with tears still in her eyes. Zhu turned to her husband sitting in the gallery as she was led back into court.
“Carland, no matter what happens, I’ll always love you,” she said.
When court resumed, Fricke argued for treatment for his client, saying she was not a threat to the community.
McCarthy then allowed Zhu to speak.
The Chinese immigrant talked about her four children and her love for her husband but quickly returned to her parents and, to her mind, their plot to kill Carland Lau.
“They always want to try to kill my husband,” Zhu said. “They pay a lot of money for that.”
McCarthy got the last word.
He said the case “highlights the intersection between mental health and criminal justice.”
McCarthy acknowledged Zhu’s mental illness but said, “She understood and had some awareness that what she did was wrong.”