For more than three years, California legal officials worked to build their case against the man suspected of the gruesome murder of 12 people. Finally last week, Charles Ng, 27, a former office equipment mover and ex-U.S. marine, listened impassively in a heavily guarded Edmonton courtroom as a lawyer for the United States government outlined a saga of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder that they allege unfolded in California’s Calaveras County, 230 km east of San Francisco, in 1984 and 1985. During an extradition hearing that is expected to last several weeks, lawyers will argue over whether Ng, who is currently serving a 41/2-year sentence for armed robbery in Calgary, should be returned to face trial in California. Because of the spectacular nature of the crimes involved, Ng’s case will provide a clear test of Canada’s willingness to return suspected criminals to jurisdictions where they could be put to death.
As the hearing began in Room 417 of Edmonton’s Court of Queen’s Bench,
Bruce MacFarlane, a lawyer for Canada’s federal justice department who is representing the U.S. government, said that he will introduce 94 affidavits against Ng, who faces a total of 25 criminal charges, including 12 of murder and eight of kidnapping. One of the affidavits describes Ng’s alleged links with Leonard Lake, v/ho swallowed a cyanide pill and died after being arrested in connection with the killings in California in 1985. Another affidavit contains details of a bunker in the California bush where victims became sexual slaves before being murdered.
In dispute is a controversial clause in the 1976 Canada-U.S. Extradition Treaty specifying that extradition from Canada “may be refused” if the jurisdiction involved maintains the death penalty. The extradition can proceed if authorities in the area assure Ottawa that the death penalty will not be carried out. No one has died in California’s gas chamber since 37year-old Aaron Mitchell was executed in 1967 for the killing of a Sacramento police officer. But there are 243 prisoners on death row in the state, and executions could resume early in the new year.
U.S. authorities have been asking for Ng’s return since the Hong Kong-born man, who fled to Canada from California, was convicted of armed robbery in December, 1985, after shooting a security guard in the hand at a Calgary department store. Last May, California Gov. George Deukmejian wrote to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, urging Ng’s extradition. Otherwise, he added, Canada could become “a haven for death-penalty fugitives.” Ng was transferred from the Prince Albert federal penitentiary in Saskatchewan to the maximumsecurity Edmonton Institution for the duration of the hearing. During his court appearance, Ng was restrained with chains on his arms and legs, and armed guards sat at his side.
Last week, San Francisco police Insp. Irene Brunn filed an affidavit linking video equipment owned by a missing San Francisco family to Ng and Lake. It describes a video cassette machine and video duplicator that were found in a farm building allegedly used by Ng and Lake as a torture chamber. Serial numbers indicate that the equipment was owned by Harvey Dubs, the operator of a part-time video business who, with his wife, Deborah, and 16-month-old son, Sean, disappeared in early 1985. Madam Justice Marguerite Trassier admitted the evidence but told the hearing that it alone was insufficient to link Ng with foul play. Trassier also heard that an unidentified caller informed Dubs’s employer soon after the family disappeared that the Dubses were taking an unexpected holiday.
The sister of one of Ng’s alleged victims was present as the extradition hearing began. “I came here because I want Canadians to know the victims had families,” said Sharon Sellitto, 40, of San Francisco, whose brother Paul Cosner disappeared four years ago. “If being here speeds up the extradition process, I’ll be pleased.” But even if the Edmonton court rales that Ng should be extradited, his lawyers could launch a series of appeals to higher courts. It could be many years—if ever—before Charles Ng is returned to California.
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