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Fri, Jan 21, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Double-murderer remains a free woman in the US

JUSTICE Accused of a crime of passion, a Taiwanese woman living in the US has escaped punishment again under a legal technicality

AP , WITH STAFF WRITER, SAN FRANCISCO

Ruling on a bizarre murder case dating back to 1994, the California state Supreme Court has refused to reinstate a double murder conviction against Lisa Peng over the deaths of her millionaire husband's mistress and their baby in Orange County.

Peng, now aged 49, was originally sentenced in 1995 to life in prison without possibility of parole for the fatal stabbing of Jennifer Ji, 25, and the suffocation of her five-month-old son, Kevin.

During that trial, Peng's lawyers claimed the husband was the killer. The jury was deadlocked at her first trial, but she was convicted at a retrial.

But in a 3-0 ruling last October, the 4th District Court of Appeal reversed the conviction on the grounds that police had failed to advise Peng of her rights, ignored her requests for a lawyer, demanded that she confess, and then used her husband as their agent to elicit incriminating statements.

The court unanimously denied review of a lower-court ruling that granted her a new trial on the grounds that she was coerced and deceived into incriminating herself through her husband, who cooperated with sheriff's deputies.

The bodies were found in a Mission Viejo apartment where Ji, Jim Peng's mainlander mistress, lived. He owned a company called Ranger Communications, which made CB radios in Asia.

The Pengs, parents of two sons, had divided their time between Taiwan and a home in Rancho Santa Margarita.

According to trial testimony, Lisa Peng knew of her husband's affair, which started in 1992, and had threatened to harm Ji. She once found them staying in the family home after returning from a trip to Taiwan, and later discovered the mistress' clothes and cut holes in them.

After the killings, Jim Peng agreed to help authorities by hunting through his wife's closet and then her financial records, for clues.

Then, according to a state appellate court, after Lisa Peng had been interrogated for many hours, officers sent the husband in to question her in Chinese.

Lisa Peng burst into tears and told him she had bitten his mistress in a confrontation hours before her death, and that Ji, who had 18 stab wounds, had accidentally stabbed herself after falling.

Authorities used her statement against her and matched her DNA to a bite mark on the victim's arm.

The highly-publicized trials in the mid-1990s made major headlines in Asia -- especially in Taiwan, home to both Pengs -- and even spawned a grisly Hong Kong-made murder mystery, called Lover's Lover.

The murder and subsequent trials have also been compared to the OJ Simpson case, as both involved two victims and DNA evidence.

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