MERCED - A Bay Area man was ordered by a Merced County judge Wednesday
to stand trial on charges he murdered a woman and dumped her body in a
trash bin at a Merced shopping center last year.
But defendant William Li’s attorney said while there was evidence
his client may have moved the body of 30-year-old Lijun Wang after she
died, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Li killed the victim.
Li has pleaded not guilty to a criminal complaint alleging he killed Wang
the night of Feb. 5, 2017, according to court records.
Wang, a Chinese national who came to the country in February 2016, was
working as a prostitute to pay off debts incurred while traveling to the
United States, police said. Wang, who was 5-feet-3-inches tall and weighed
90-pounds, was found dead, wrapped within three bags on Feb. 6, 2017,
in a trash bin in the 3100 block of G Street, authorities said.
Attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum questions Merced County Sheriff Coroner's
Office Forensic Pathologist, Mark Super M.D., during a preliminary hearing
in the case of his client, William Li, of San Francisco, at the Merced
County Superior Courthouse in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Li has been charged with one count of murder in connection with the death
of 30-year-old Lijun Wang, who's body was found in a trash bin of
an alleyway in the 3100 block of G Street on Feb. 6, 2017.
On Wednesday investigators testified Wang’s cause of death was “asphyxiation
by neck compression” and that she was killed less than 24 hours
before she was found.
After a two-month investigation, police arrested Li in San Mateo and transferred
him to Merced. Investigators said Li was tied to “the organized
crime” group for which Wang worked as a prostitute, but did not
say what Li’s role was. They believe Wang and Li were in some sort
of romantic relationship that possibly soured.
Li’s family scraped together $50,000 through credit cards and $30,000
in cash to post his $80,000 bond, according to representatives from Aladdin
Detective Jeff Horn, who led the murder investigation, said Merced police
haven’t identified a direct motive. But they believed Li to be the
killer based on cell phone call records and geolocation records, Li’s
statement to detectives and other “strong circumstantial evidence.”
That evidence, according to testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, included surveillance
video from a nearby business that shows a car that matched the description
of Li’s near the trash bin, the night before a homeless man found Wang.
Forensic experts testified chips of paint found on Wang’s body matched
at least two paint samples from the San Mateo auto body shop where Li
worked. The chips were also in the trunk of Li’s car.
Web histories on computers and an iPhone seized during the investigation
included searches on the Sun-Star’s coverage of murder and how to
delete phone records, Merced Police Detective Allen Adrian testified.
Li’s attorney, Merced-based Jeffrey Tenenbaum, rejected the broken
relationship story and and police allegation Li was involved with the
sex-trafficking organization. Tenenbaum says the evidence doesn’t
point to more than a platonic relationship between the two.
Wang, Tenenbaum said, was Li’s masseuse, adding that Li helped Wang
with legal issues. Tenenbaum said the purpose of a meeting between the
two the day of the murder was for Li to give back Wang’s passport
because she requested it.
Tenenbaum also said a lack of motive or any evidence suggesting Li killed
Wang meant the murder charge didn’t fit.
“I will grant you that there’s been a lot of evidence presented
that Mr. Li transported a dead body,” Tenenbaum said to Horn on
the witness stand Wednesday. “But how can you be certain that Mr.
Li killed this woman?”
The difference, Tenenbaum said, meant charging Li with being an accessory
to murder after the fact rather than murder. The former is a less serious
felony with a lighter possible sentence.
But in a preliminary hearing, a judge has to determine if the murder case
should go to trial based on a “reasonable suspicion” it happened.
On Tenenbaum’s insistence that there was no motive for murder, Judge
Ronald Hansen said there also was no motive for Li moving Wang’s
body other than the allegation that Li killed her.
“It’s a circumstantial evidence case, but most homicides are
circumstantial evidence cases,” Hansen said.
After Hansen ordered Li to stand trial for the alleged murder, Tenenbaum
said Li and his family are going to fight the case against him.
“There is no motive, no direct evidence,” Tenenbaum said, noting
Li has a family with three kids, and works hard as a mechanic. “He
maintains his innocence.”
Deputy District Attorney Scott Drexel said the circumstantial evidence,
including the established timeline of Li and Wang’s location on
the day of the murder, is overwhelming enough to cast reasonable suspicion
on the defendant.
“I see the evidence very differently (than the defense),” Drexel
said. “I am confidant in our case. I think we did establish a motive,
and I think justice will be served once this gets to trial.”
San Francisco resident William Li, right, sits with his attorney Jeffrey
Tenenbaum, left, during a preliminary hearing at the Merced County Superior
Courthouse in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Li has been
charged with one count of murder in connection with the death of 30-year-old
Lijun Wang, who's body was found in a trash bin of an alleyway in
the 3100 block of G Street on Feb. 6, 2017.