A 43-year-old Irvine man was convicted Thursday of fatally stabbing his estranged wife’s boyfriend at his dental practice five years ago.
Hongli Sun was found guilty of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon, with sentencing enhancements for the personal use of a deadly weapon and inflicting great bodily injury. Jurors, who had the option of considering lesser crimes such as second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, deliberated about a day before returning the verdict.
An Oct. 30 sentencing date was scheduled for Sun, who’s expected to face 26 years to life in prison.
Sun killed 54-year-old dentist Xuan Liu on July 18, 2015, in a parking lot at 4980 Barranca Parkway.
“The motive is the affair and, more specifically, it is Mr. Sun’s anger, jealously and ultimately, the desire for revenge,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said in his opening statement.
At the time of the murder, Sun and his then-wife Cynthia Chen were in the process of getting divorced for a second time, Birney said. They have a son, who was then 8 years old.
The two initially divorced in November 2014 because of Chen’s affair with Liu, who was her boss, Birney said. They got the divorce vacated and were remarried in January 2015, when Chen said she needed treatment for cancer and had “green card issues,” he said. But when Sun grew suspicious that his wife was carrying on her affair with Liu, the two were on the road to divorce again, the prosecutor said.
“On the Saturday morning of July 18, 2015, he drove his brand new Mercedes-Benz… to the medical office plaza where Dr. Liu worked and Cynthia Chen previously worked,” Birney told jurors. “He suspected his wife wasn’t where she said she was going to be… Mr. Sun suspected she was not at her new place of work, but was back with Dr. Liu’s office where she had worked for four years.”
Liu and his wife were also getting divorced because of the affair, Birney said.
When Sun saw that Liu was at lunch, the defendant “waited and watched.” And when Liu returned to his office, Sun hit the accelerator of his Mercedes SUV and rammed ti into Liu, Birney said.
“He then jumped out of the car and took his knife and he chased down Dr. Liu, who had fled from where he had originally been run down,” according to Birney, who said Sun then “repeatedly” stabbed Liu a total of 17 times.
An employee of Liu’s, who attempted to stop the attack, was stabbed in the left calf, Birney said.
In arguing that the murder was premeditated, the prosecutor said Sun bought the knife on May 18, 2015, and “chose the time of attack and the location of the attack.”
Sun’s attorney, John Barnett, said his client was told that his wife had contracted cancer from a sexually transmitted disease that Lieu gave Chen.
“She says, `I’m about to die. There is no cure,”’ Barnett said.
Sun took his wife back and attempted to reconcile with her for the sake of their son, who he was caring for while Chen had returned to China, Barnett said.
“Forgiveness repaid by betrayal,” Barnett said. “That forgiveness begat betrayal and further forgiveness begat further betrayal. After being stretched over time… he finally snapped and he killed Dr. Liu.”
Sun was not sure his wife was having an affair with Liu when he drove over to confront the dentist, the defense attorney said.
“He does not know Dr. Liu’s schedule,” Barnett said. “And Dr. Liu is rarely in town… He’s suspicious so he goes to the medical clinic.”
Sun bought the knife because Liu’s estranged wife, Junli Zha, a physician who worked in the same office as her office, was having an affair with a “gangster” and was using explicit photos of Liu and Chen as “leverage” in her divorce, he alleged.
Chen warned Sun that they “were in danger,” so Sun got a knife for protection, Barnett said.
When he saw Liu and Chen together the day of the attack returning from lunch, “he snaps,” the attorney said.
He maintained that Sun stabbed Liu’s assistant accidentally, “then sits down and says `kill me.”’ His client told police, “I lost my mind in the moment,” according to Barnett.