British Columbia

B.C. man who killed and dismembered millionaire to serve another 2 years and 4 months following sentencing

A West Vancouver man who killed his wife’s cousin before using power tools to chop him into 108 separate pieces will serve another two years and four months behind bars.

Li Zhao killed Gang Yuan in 2015 after an argument in which Yuan asked to marry Zhao's daughter

Gang Yuan's dismembered body was found at a West Vancouver home in May 2015. The man who killed him and chopped up his body has been sentenced to 10½ years. He only has another two years and four months to serve after pre-trial credit. (Submitted)

A West Vancouver man who killed his wife's cousin before using power tools to chop him into 108 separate pieces will serve another two years and four months behind bars.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Terence Schultes sentenced Li Zhao Monday to 10 years and six months for manslaughter and interfering with human remains — but the amount of time Zhao has already spent in pretrial custody means he will be free in a fraction of that time.

In recounting the circumstances that saw Zhao strike Gang Yuan with a hammer, shoot him with a gun designed to kill vermin and then cut him up as he imagined he might a bear, the judge described the circumstances surrounding the crime as "unquestionably bizarre."

"The sheer scale and rather clinical nature of Mr Zhao's actions amounted effectively to the obliteration of Mr Yuan's body as an intact entity," Schultes said.

'Like a beast'

The killing and dismemberment occurred as the result of an argument that began when Yuan appeared to belittle a device Zhao — an avid inventor and hunter — had fashioned out of hiking poles to serve as a kind of stabilizer for a rifle.

Yuan, a millionare with children by multiple wives, said it was a "simple" invention — and then went on to suggest that Zhao let him marry his beloved daughter.

West Vancouver police and homicide investigators from the Vancouver Police Department examine the scene of the crime after finding Gang Yuan's dismembered body. (CBC)

She was the only child Zhao and his wife had been allowed to have under China's one-child policy. And Zhao disapproved of Yuan's profligate lifestyle.

Yuan said it wasn't like he and Zhao's wife, who was the adopted daughter of his paternal aunt, were related by blood. But Zhao viewed the suggestion as incestuous.

"Like a beast," Zhao would later describe it to police.

Yuan, who was heavier and younger, struck Zhao. 

And that's when Zhao picked up a hammer.

'Life was at risk'

Schultes convicted Zhao of manslaughter and interfering with human remains in January, after failing to find the intent needed to find the 60-year-old guilty of second-degree murder.

Although the relationship between Zhao and Yuan came to its bloody conclusion at Zhao's mansion on May 2, 2015, the two had spent the years previous as friends and business partners in a farming venture in Saskatchewan.

Both had prospered in China before moving to Canada.

Police investigate the death and dismemberment of Gang Yuan in 2015 after the discovery of his body at this home in West Vancouver. (CBC)

The judge said Zhao had lived a rags to riches story — his physician parents falling afoul of the Chinese state when he was a child, forcing the family into poverty and Zhao into a labour camp to earn money as a teen.

At one point, Zhao claimed he got frostbite after attempting to walk more than 2,000 kilometres home from the camp. 

But his fortunes changed with China's new attitudes to wealth, and by the time Zhao and his wife immigrated to Canada in 2001, he was a rich businessman. The couple moved first to Montreal and then to Vancouver, where they lived with Yuan in a large mansion.

According to the judge, Zhao said Yuan threatened to kick him to death after seeing him pick up the hammer. He claimed that he struck Yuan in the leg and then hit him on the head after seeing him go for the gun.

"Life was at risk," Zhao told police.

Yuan got the hammer away from him, and Zhao got his hands on the rifle, loading a cartridge, and firing the gun.

"After I opened fire and saw his wide eyes, once I did this, I didn't know, I thought he was going to get up and hit me, so I fired another shot, so it was simultaneous," Zhao claimed.

Discrete, fairly uniform parts

Zhao's wife and her elderly mother had been taking a walk, but returned to find the aftermath of the shooting. Zhao told them to take a walk and then dragged Yuan's body to the garage.

Schultes said Zhao cut Yuan's body into the 108 discrete, fairly uniform parts, which he put into plastic bags.

The family's nanny came into the garage at one point, but couldn't see exactly what he was doing. He said he had been hunting a bear.

After leaving the scene, Zhao's wife called police, who began trying to call the house. 

Zhao would later say that he became muddled and went to bed. He said he thought he would bag and freeze Yuan's body parts so they wouldn't rot but that "even if you've got tons of reasons for it, you get in trouble."

He finally answered the home phone. Police told him to come outside.

By all accounts Zhao, who had never been in a fistfight before the incident, is a model prisoner. He speaks little English, and has found a job behind bars, donating his meagre pay to charities.

The Crown had asked for a sentence totalling between 12 and 14 years, whereas Zhao's lawyer said a total of about eight years would be more appropriate.

The judge said Zhao's moral blameworthiness was high and that while he may have been frightened, he chose the path that was most likely to end in Yuan's death when he reached for a hammer and then a gun.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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