Part 4 of Northwest Asian Weekly’s Wah Mee exclusive
By Amy Phan
Northwest Asian Weekly
Throughout his hour-long parole hearing, Wai-Chu “Tony” Ng gave reasons for the members of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB) to consider as they decide whether to grant him parole on his last five-year count at McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) in southern Puget Sound.
Ng is one of the three participants in the Wah Mee Massacre — the state’s largest massacre to date. If granted parole, Ng would begin serving his last count in March 2010. With good behavior, Ng could be free by 2013. He has served a total of 24 years in prison.
“I am much more patient — stronger minded. I improved on everything [since being incarcerated]. I speak up for what I believe is right. [I] won’t follow anybody’s bad choice,” Ng told ISRB board members on Jan. 13 at MICC.
Unlike the victims’ hearing in December — which had only two members present — all four ISRB board members were present at the parole hearing. Ng was the second inmate, out of five MICC inmates, to speak before the parole board.
Accompanied by his MICC counselor Donald Walston, attorney Michael Kahrs, and a Cantonese translator, Ng answered questions from the parole board regarding his involvement in the Wah Mee Massacre and his current rehabilitated status.
“I want to seek forgiveness, atonement [for what I’ve done],” said the 54-year-old. “I know that every time my hearing comes up … it gives people a bad memory. No matter what I say, it could never repay [the events of the Wah Mee Massacre].”
Board member Dennis Thaut said Ng spoke more during the hearing than he did during his previous parole hearing, held in 2006.
“You seem to have a more enlightened understanding of this hearing and your responsibility in the events,” Thaut said to Ng.
At around midnight on Feb. 19, 1983, Ng, along with Willy Mak and Benjamin Ng (no relation to Tony Ng) stormed into the Wah Mee Club in an attempt to rob the gambling institution. Thirteen patrons were hog-tied and fatally shot, but one victim survived. Mak and Benjamin Ng were convicted of murder without the possibility of parole.
Tony Ng was acquitted of murder but was convicted of 13 counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree assault, all counts while armed with a deadly weapon.
Ng recounted for the parole board the events that led to his involvement in the massacre.
He said his participation in the massacre stemmed from a gambling debt owed to his co-defendants.
“When I went to Willy’s house [to pay back the debt], he threatened me and I was scared for my life,” said Ng.
However, board members questioned Ng’s answers.
ISRB board member Tom Sahlberg asked Ng, “Do you understand the impact you’ve had on the Chinese community in Seattle? In the past, you said you owe people money [as the main reason for Ng’s participation in the massacre] … but that [seems] like a minimization of the impact on the community.”
Sahlberg continued, “How are you taking responsibility for your participation [in the Wah Mee Massacre]?”
After struggling a bit with his response, Ng said, “Before, I tried to justify and blame my actions on others. Now, I have to take responsibility. I know that I helped them [Willy and Benjamin Ng]. I was part of it. I could have done a lot of things differently.”
Thaut pressed further.
“The community is divided in terms of how they feel. A large portion of the community finds you culpable. Do you see your responsibility differently [now]?” asked Thaut.
“I have more understanding of my responsibility, I could have done a lot more [like] seek help. But I did it myself,” said Ng.
After a moment of silence, Ng described what he could have done differently in the events leading up to the massacre.
“In the beginning, I was forced to [participate in the crime], then I tried to get out of the situation … [but] before I went to Willy’s house [to try to repay the gambling debt], I could have brought another friend with me [rather than go alone],” said Ng.
Ng’s attorney Michael Kahrs told the board that there are “cross-cultural implications [having to do with] the Chinese American community.”
“If you’re a Chinese male, you’re considered weak if you seek the help of others,” said Kahrs, who postponed Ng’s original parole board hearing in late December because he needed more time to prepare.
He went on to say that he believed the psychological evaluation conducted in November 2009 by a Department of Corrections psychologist was “tremendously flawed” because it did not consider these cross-cultural implications and Ng’s age at the time of the crime.
“Tony is not a criminal in the classic sense. He had no criminal personality,” said Kahrs.
During the hearing, Kahrs said he planned on submitting, to the parole board, a separate psychological assessment — or at least have an assessment of the first psychological evaluation.
Kahrs submitted letters from supporters of Ng’s parole and recent articles published in the Northwest Asian Weekly to the parole board.
“Tony has learned how to express shame. He’s still working on that to this day. It is reflected in the [Northwest Asian Weekly] articles. … He understands his mistakes,” said Kahrs.
Board members will use the parole hearing as well as concerns from the community and victims’ family members, among other factors, to decide whether or not they find Ng eligible to be paroled on his last count.
Even if Ng is found eligible to move on in March 2010, he will have to go before the parole board once again at the end of count seven to be paroled into the community.
Because the Wah Mee Massacre occurred before the 1984 effective date of the Sentencing Reform Act — which largely affects the minimum amount of time an offender spends in prison — Ng’s parole is at the sole discretion of the ISRB.
The parole board will have a written decision in approximately one month. ♦
Amy Phan can be reached at email@example.com.