Trial began Monday for a man accused of stabbing to death his wife’s ex-lover, an Irvine dentist, after trying to run him down with a vehicle, with the case expected to focus on whether the killing was driven by revenge or sudden rage.
There was no debate during opening statements in a Orange County Superior Courtroom that Hongli Sun, 43, killed Dr. Xuan Liu during a July 18, 2015 attack outside the dentist’s office in a medical building off Barranca Parkway in Irvine, during a confrontation that also left another woman who tried to intervene injured.
Instead, the question for the Santa Ana jury will be whether Sun planned to kill Liu when he went to the office that day, as the prosecution contends, or if he suddenly snapped under the pressure of marital betrayal, as the defense countered.
Both sides acknowledge that Sun’s wife, Cynthia Chen, had an affair with Liu, her longtime employer, that led to a divorce. Chen left for China, leaving Sun to care for their young son, then months later returned.
The couple initially reconciled and reversed their divorce, the attorneys said, but Sun soon began to suspect she was still having an affair with Liu. The day of the attack, he drove to Liu’s office to see if Chen was there.
Sun arrived to find a letter on the office door, in his wife’s handwriting, telling visitors they had gone to lunch. Sun waited in his car until a car with his wife, Liu and two other office workers returned.
Sun drove toward Liu, striking him with enough force to knock him away from the vehicle before colliding with a wall. Sun then exited the car, chased after Liu and stabbed him 17 times, in the process also injuring a woman who tried to stop him.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney told jurors that Sun felt “shamed” by his wife repeatedly cheating on him, and the fact the people at Liu’s office knew about the affair.
Birney showed messages Sun sent to his wife months before the fatal attack, in which, referring to Liu, he allegedly wrote “I have to kill him.”
“The motive is the affair,” Birney said. “More specifically, it is Mr. Sun’s anger, jealousy and ultimately desire for revenge. Revenge is what this killing is about.”
Sun’s attorney, John Barnett, told jurors that Sun had come to learn that Liu had “drugged,” “debased,” and “seduced” his wife, and had photographed her having sex. Sun had also been told that Liu had given his wife a sexually transmitted disease that he believed had caused her to get cancer, the defense attorney said.
“This case is about betrayal, and it is about forgiveness – forgiveness that was repaid with more betrayal,” Barnett said. “After being given the hope and having it taken away, he snapped and killed Dr. Liu.”
When police later asked Sun if he had planned to kill Liu, Sun replied “No, I went to look for my wife and all of a sudden I saw her and the doctor,” later adding “I lost my mind at the moment,” Barnett told jurors.
Sun is facing special circumstances murder by lying in wait, among other charges. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Source: Orange County Register