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Chinese students plead guilty to killing
Pair admit to killing owner of their private school
Alex Tavshunsky For The Toronto Star
UNEXPECTED PLEA: Feng Wang, left, and Zhiyang Suo plead guilty before a Brampton judge Jan. 29.
Two visa students from China have admitted killing the owner of the Toronto private school they once attended.
In an unexpected turn of events, Zhiyang Suo, 20, and Feng Wang, 21, pleaded guilty yesterday to manslaughter and the unlawful confinement of Thomas Ku, who disappeared last May from his Mississauga home.
The two students, who originally faced charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, theft and unlawful confinement, were in the midst of a pretrial hearing that started Monday. But yesterday, crown prosecutor Mark Saltmarsh asked Mr. Justice Bruce Duncan to have them arraigned.
With their hair pulled back in ponytails, the men — through lawyers John Mann and Ed Hung — pleaded guilty without an agreed statement of facts being read to the court.
The statement, which provides details of the case, won't be ready until their next court appearance Friday. The other charges will be dealt with at that time as well, Saltmarsh said.
"We are pleased with (the plea). If it wasn't the right decision, we wouldn't have done it," Hung, Suo's lawyer, told reporters outside the Brampton courthouse.
Under the Criminal Code, first-degree murder involves an intent to kill, and is planned and deliberate — unlike manslaughter, which is committed in the heat of passion and may involve provocation.
At the time of their arrest, Peel homicide Inspector Tom Slinger said the crime was "all about money."
Criminal law expert Peter Zaduk said in an interview that lowering the charge from first-degree murder to manslaughter is "a big reduction."
"They might be overcharged to begin with. It is not uncommon for people to be charged with offences that are more aggravated than what they may have committed for plea-bargaining purposes," said Zaduk, one of Ontario's 300 certified specialists in criminal litigation.
"Maybe manslaughter was the appropriate charge. (The plea) might be something that happened at the last minute," he said.
"For something as serious as this, they probably want to be more careful and they may require some drafting of the statement (of facts)."
Anyone convicted of first-degree murder faces a life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years. Sentences for manslaughter can range from a suspended sentence (probation) to life in prison.
Ku, 48, the wealthy owner of Great Lakes College, vanished from the driveway of his Chesbro Court home last May 15. His family received a ransom call three days later.
His skeletal remains were found later that month in a wooded area outside Peterborough.
Police alleged that Suo and Wang, both former students at Ku's school and in Canada on student visas, kidnapped Ku after he parked his car and stole $5,000 from him before demanding a ransom from his wife.
Ku's wife, Ching Wan Yeh, was instructed to drop off $500,000 at the east end of the Pacific Mall, at Kennedy Rd. and Steeles Ave. E. in Markham. Upon the advice of police, no money was ever handed over.
"Paying a ransom is not a guarantee by any means that you are going to get a person alive. My belief in this case is if they had paid the ransom, it wouldn't have made any difference," Slinger told a news conference immediately after the discovery of Ku's body.
Ku built Great Lakes College during the 14 years he was in Canada after arriving from Taiwan. University-bound students from Grade 9 to OAC paid about $20,000 a year for tuition and boarding to get a high school diploma.
The school had a campus in Toronto near Keele and Bloor Sts., attended by Suo and Wang, and in Bowmanville near Concession and Liberty Sts. The student population of about 500 came mainly from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In late May, police raided Wang's residence on Chipwood Cres., near Highway 404 and Finch Ave. E., and arrested both suspects.
Ku's wife, along with the couple's adult son and daughter, met with prosecutors Saltmarsh and John Raftery yesterday and were notified of the plans. They declined to be interviewed.
"It is the right decision," Raftery said outside court.
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