Wah Mee victims’ family members emotional at public meeting

Part 2 of Northwest Asian Weekly’s exclusive with Tony Ng
{read part 1}
| {read part 3} | {read part 4}

By Amy Phan
Northwest Asian Weekly

Doris Wong-Estridge (middle, wearing black) and her sister Carrie Wong, nieces of Wah Mee Massacre victim Wing “Bill” Wong, sit indiscreetly at a public meeting with the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board on Dec. 4 at Beacon Hill Library. The meeting was designed to gain public input on whether Wah Mee inmate Tony Ng should be granted parole. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Doris Wong-Estridge (middle, wearing black) and her sister Carrie Wong, nieces of Wah Mee Massacre victim Wing “Bill” Wong, sit indiscreetly at a public meeting with the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board on Dec. 4 at Beacon Hill Library. The meeting was designed to gain public input on whether Wah Mee inmate Tony Ng should be granted parole. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

In less than an hour, memories of the chilling night that forever changed a community will be unraveled.

The aging faces of family and community members reflect the time that has passed since the 1983 Wah Mee Massacre. However, the memories remain as vivid as they first appeared 26 years ago.

The public meeting

“Every time I go into Chinatown — when I walk past the Wah Mee — I am reminded of the crime,” said community member John Lew. “It’s a blemish to the whole Chinese community.”

In a public meeting on Friday, Dec. 4, at Beacon Hill Library, Lew and victims’ family members gathered the courage to once again speak about the night that changed their lives.

“The pain still bothers me. I want to cry but there are no more tears,” wrote Yue Locke Wong, wife of Gim Lun Wong.

Translator Alan Lai read her letter, written in Chinese because she does not speak English, to the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB), also known as the parole board, which had two members present at the public meeting.

“It’s a shame that [Ng] is up for parole. I ask that he has no release,” wrote Wong.

Doris Wong-Estridge, niece of victim Wing “Bill” Wong (no relation to Gim Lum Wong), attended the last hearing but did not speak publicly. This time was different. She says it was important that the board hear from her why Ng, who was acquitted of murder but sentence to 35 years in prison for his participation in the massacre, should not be granted parole.

Holding back tears, she told the board, “I believe in practicing life behind bars for heinous crimes; what could be more heinous than the death of 13 people? Tony must pay the price for the murders.”

Reading from a written statement, she described how devastating it has been to live with the knowledge that her uncle was brutally murdered.

“The only thing the trio (Tony Ng, Willy Mak, and Benjamin Ng — no relation to Tony) did was spare my uncle from witnessing his friends die,” she said.

Wong-Estridge said she is prepared to speak out against Ng’s release each time there is parole possibility.

About 25 letters were mailed out, notifying the victims’ family members about the hearing, said ISRB victim liaison Ellen Hanegan-Cruse.

ISRB board member Tom Sahlberg said some family members have requested to speak to the board privately, without the presence of the media or an audience.

Lai, who was also present during the last victims’ hearing in 2006, said he was not surprised by the lack of public statements about Ng’s possible release.

“The Chinese do not like to be famous in a bad way,” said Liu. “[For a while], life was back to normal. In a sense, people were able to push [the crime] off to the side. It was OK to go about day to day.”

The lawyers

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg made the opening statements in the meeting and asked the board not to release Ng.

Satterberg said under modern sentencing laws, Ng would have been sentenced to 80 years for the crime.

However, because the massacre was committed a year before the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) took effect, “[Ng] has received far too many breaks in the [legal] system,” he said. “[Ng’s release] would be a travesty of justice.”

Satterberg’s predecessor, the late Norm Maleng, lead prosecutor in the Wah Mee Massacre case, shared similar sentiments at the 2006 victims’ hearing.

“The board should review … and set a minimum that is commensurate with the harm Mr. Ng has caused,” Maleng said in 2006.

Ng did not have public representation at the hearing. However, Michael Kahrs, Ng’s attorney, released a statement afterwards.

“The Board explicitly considered the guidelines of the SRA, the Judge’s sentencing recommendation, and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s sentence recommendation when setting Mr. Ng’s sentence length on each charge. Mr. Ng has been and is serving the time determined by the [ISRB] for his crimes of conviction,” said Kahrs.

Ng is one of about 400 inmates convicted under old sentencing laws, said ISRB public records officer Robin Riley.

One of the differences between old and modern sentencing laws is the role of the ISRB. For crimes committed before July 1, 1984, the SRA effective date, an inmates’ release date is at the jurisdiction of the parole board.

The board could deny an offenders’ parole indefinitely.

Wah Mee inmate Tony Ng

Wah Mee inmate Tony Ng

Ng’s story

While Ng has remained publicly quiet throughout his incarceration — as a means to “not cause anymore pain” to those involved — he said the silence doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about the event.

“I always ask myself why. Why wasn’t I strong enough to say no? Why did I have to create such a bad name for my family? They are good people,” said Ng in an interview with Northwest Asian Weekly before the public meeting.

Ng said he understands the victims’ family members’ anger toward him. “I would feel the same way, too,” he said. “I can’t blame them.”

Ng now understands the importance of speaking about his experiences and about the crime, an event many in the Chinese American community consider to be a taboo subject, he said.

“I’m a lot different than when I first came into prison, I’m a lot more patient with other people and don’t get mad over little things,” he said.

But most of all, he is speaking because he seeks forgiveness from the community and the family members of the victims affected by the massacre.

“I want the victims [of the Wah Mee Massacre] to forgive me for my participation on that night. It was a mistake, and I want to say I’m sorry,” said Ng.

“I shouldn’t have hung around [Mak and Benjamin Ng] but I did. I wasn’t street-wise and didn’t know how to say no,” he said, “I want the Asian community to forgive the fact that I caused pain.”

Ng is ready to explain his side of the story — 26 years after the massacre.

Ng said his participation in the crime stemmed from a $1000 gambling debt owed to Mak.

“I tried to get out of the situation by borrowing money from my [then] girlfriend, to repay [Mak], but they threatened me and said they would hurt me and my family if I wasn’t a part of it,” he said.

After the massacre, Ng fled to Canada for 18 months where he changed his name and lived off of money sent from his family as well as the money from the crime. At the time of his arrest, Ng was initially charged with Canadian immigration violations before being extradited back to the United States for his participation in the massacre.

During his trial, Ng said he acted under duress, claiming he felt his life would be in danger if he did not participate in the crime.

Ng said he understands that asking for forgiveness does not lessen the fact that he was part of the crime.

“I ask for forgiveness mostly because I want the victims to have peace and some sort of release in their lives,” said Ng.

But he knows forgiveness doesn’t come easily.

Ng has learned how to forgive those who have caused pain in his life.

After his 1985 conviction, he was transferred to the Arizona prison systems, due to concern over his safety against his codefendants.

For a long time, Ng harbored a lot of resentment and anger toward Mak and Benjamin Ng for not letting him out of the planned crime when he decided he “didn’t want to do it anymore.”

“I just kept thinking, ‘Why did you guys make me do this — be part of it?’” he said.

When Ng was transferred to the McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) in 2003, a cellmate introduced him to the prison church program. There, he discovered the peace of forgiveness.

“I forgive Willy and Benjamin for everything, and that has helped me to be a better and happier person,” said Ng. “I became a peaceful person.” Ng said he was finally able to forgive Mak and Benjamin Ng only last March.

In a separate interview, Jason Loui, stepson of John Loui, who had been owner of the Wah Mee Club, said “hindsight is too late.”

“It’s important that [Ng] serves all of his time and then, once he’s done with what the judge sentenced, he can walk free,” said Loui, who is now a father of two.

As for Ng’s request for forgiveness, Loui responded with, “That don’t mean jack to me. … In life, you make choices, and then you live with those consequences. All of the stuff [Ng] does while he is in prison is a by-product [of the crimes committed].”

Others shared the same viewpoint.

At the most recent victims’ hearing, Carrie Wong, whose uncle was Wing “Bill” Wong, said, “It doesn’t change anything, whatever [Ng] says or does doesn’t change what happened.”

Wong thought Ng was only asking for forgiveness because of his upcoming parole.

But Ng said he is ready for “whatever outcome” that may result from this parole hearing.

“Everybody has their opinion. That’s the way it is. Whatever the outcome is, I have to accept it,” he said.

Because ultimately, said Ng, “No matter how much time I serve [in jail], people will still be in pain.”

Nonetheless, he said he hopes that, one day, he will be able to show people how he has changed and what he can do for the community. ♦

Amy Phan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

2 Responses to “Wah Mee victims’ family members emotional at public meeting”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Posted on 17 December 2009 Tags: 2009, Tony Ng, Vol 28 No 52 | December 19 – December 25 Part 3 of Northwest Asian Weekly’s exclusive with Tony Ng {read part 1} | {read part 2} [...]

  2. [...] Posted on 03 December 2009 Tags: 2009, Vol 28 No 50 | December 5 – December 11 Part 1 of Northwest Asian Weekly’s exclusive with Tony Ng {read part 2} [...]


Leave a Reply

Community Calendar

Weekly E-Newsletter

READ NWAW ONLINE!

Follow our tweets

Do you like us?

  1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments
  1. Are you the organizer of an Asian/Pacific Islander community event? Just fill out the following form at least 14 days in advance of your event and we’ll do our best to include it in our calendar. Please fill out the information as completely as possible. Failure to do so may result in your event not making it in the calendar.

Photos on flickr