SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge said he will sever any death penalty-eligible charges against former Chinatown gang leader Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow after prosecutors introduced new evidence allegedly pinning him for ordering two murders.
A federal grand jury has yet to return a third superseding indictment against Chow, who is already facing trial for racketeering on Nov. 2, but the government filed an emergency motion earlier this week asking to delay Monday's scheduled jury selection.
The new charges allege that Chow ordered the murder of businessman Allen Leung in 2006. Leung was head of the Ghee Kung Tong at the time, the organization that Chow currently leads and is accused of running as a criminal enterprise.
The 56 year-old Leung was killed outside his Chinatown import-export shop by a masked gunman. Papers filed Monday by the government say co-defendant Kongphet Chanthavong will testify that Chow ordered the murder over some money Chow believed he was owed.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer severed Chanthavong and six other co-defendants' racketeering charges after they all pled guilty to money laundering and dealing drugs and guns.
The documents also claim Chow ordered the killing of Jim Tat Kong, a member of the San Francisco street gang Hop Sing Tong, to which Chow also belonged. Co-defendant Andy Li will testify, the government says, that Chow told him that Kong had been "handled" after he removed his protection from him.
"We don't want a delay in trial," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen told Breyer Thursday. "But we have developed a great deal of information and evidence from a time that certain individuals started talking. And that continues. I interviewed new witnesses as recently as yesterday."
A separate filing by Frentzen says that because of Chow's criminal history, he is unable to bring the charge as a non-death penalty offense without permission from the U.S. Attorney General, and the approval process could take months.
"If the court and counsel are not amenable to a continuance, then the government will necessarily have to charge the Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering murder of Allen Leung as a death-eligible offense," his filing says.
Chow's lawyer Curtis Briggs characterized the filing as an extortion attempt by prosecutors.
"I didn't want to put [Chow's] life on the line by submitting to their extortion attempt to tell us we had to agree to a continuance or he's going to face the death penalty," Briggs told reporters.
But Breyer denied the government's motion immediately, saying, "The defendant's right to a speedy trial and his right to counsel of his choosing would be severely impacted by a continuance of the case. He then said the murder charge should be tried separately.
Outside the court, Briggs said, "All the evidence points to my client wasn't anywhere near either of them. He is absolutely innocent. Everything we've seen from the government has only proved that. And it's almost like being in the Twilight Zone because you wonder why we're here. The further we get into litigation the more bizarre their allegations get and when they turn over the discovery the more exonerating we find it to be."
Kwok Gheung "Shrimp Boy" Chow, 55, born in Hong Kong, served seven years in prison for a 1978 robbery conviction.
The year after he was released, he was charged with 28 criminal counts, many involving violence or attempted violence, and served three more years. In 1992 he was arrested again on racketeering charges, and was sentenced to 24 years in 1995. He got out early after testifying against his former boss.
He refused to take a plea deal in July.