LAS VEGAS — Wen Jun Li crossed the wrong people while racking up a $10,000 gambling debt in Las Vegas. It ended up costing him his life.
Li was slashed and stabbed 32 times while frantically trying to escape a ruthless hit man for an Asian gang who was dressed in black and had tracked him to a dark karaoke bar several blocks west of the Las Vegas Strip.
Xiao Ye Bai, 26, a man prosecutors called an enforcer for a Taiwan-based gang known as United Bamboo, was sentenced Tuesday to life without parole in a Nevada state prison for Li's bloody killing – plus what could amount to another lifetime for slashing two other people in the July 2009 attack at the Forbes KTV bar and restaurant.
With his tears falling on his written apology, Bai told a Clark County district judge through a Mandarin interpreter that he knew his sorrow couldn't atone for his crimes.
"Your honor, I understand what my final sentence will be," Bai said at the hearing. He promised to live life in a "more positive way" behind bars.
Bai's fate was sealed in December, when the same jury that convicted the martial arts-trained assassin at trial in November spared him the death penalty on the capital murder conviction.
Judge Michael Villani on Tuesday called the attack "senseless." He sentenced Bai to life in prison for Li's murder, and added a sentence of 32 to 85 years for Bai's convictions on kidnapping, extortion, conspiracy to commit murder, and other felony charges.
"You endangered numerous people in the karaoke bar ... who were in the wrong place at the wrong time," the judge said.
Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said later he was satisfied with the outcome. During trial, he characterized Bai as a sociopath and a "hit man for an international organized crime group" who made a living killing people.
"The sentence certainly reflects the severity of his crime," DiGiacomo said Tuesday.
Bai also was sought in California in a separate shooting several months before the Las Vegas attack that left one person dead and another wounded outside a karaoke bar in the suburban Los Angeles city of San Gabriel. It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday if Bai was believed to have been acting on behalf of United Bamboo in that attack.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office had no immediate information about the case.
Bai's mother, Ying Chen, who jurors were told beat her son with a baseball bat when he was growing up in China, was in the courtroom as her son was sentenced. She declined to comment outside court.
During trial, Chen dropped to her knees from the witness stand and pleaded for Bai's life. At another point, she unfurled a banner outside the courtroom pleading for "fair minded" judgment from the jury.
Bai's lawyers, Robert Langford and Robert Draskovich, said Tuesday they intend to appeal Bai's conviction and sentence. But they held little hope of success.
Bai's lawyers never denied Bai attacked Li. They argued instead that Bai was a product of an abusive upbringing who didn't intend to kill. They said after the December hearing that they were satisfied the jury spared Bai's life.
"We wanted to keep him off death row," Draskovich said.
Langford cast Bai as an "abused and frightened man in his 20s" who was hospitalized for three days in China after being beaten with a bat, then sent to a martial arts boarding school. Bai moved as a teenager to Los Angeles in 2005, where he became a permanent legal U.S. resident, Langford said.
The jury in Las Vegas was told that Bai searched for Li for several days prior to the Forbes KTV attack. When Bai learned that Li was at the karaoke bar, Bai's then-girlfriend, Pei "Nikki" Pei, drove him there in a black Honda Accord with the license plate covered.
Bai went inside, where jurors were told Li saw Bai coming before grabbing another man, Jian Guo, and pushing him toward Bai.
Guo was cut on his arm before Bai caught Li fleeing down a hallway and set upon stabbing him 32 times.
A woman in the bar, Lin Yao, was stabbed four times when she tried to intervene, thinking that Bai was punching Li, according to testimony.
Pei, who initially faced the same charges as Bai, pleaded guilty before trial to reduced felony charges of accessory to murder for driving Bai to and from the club the night of the killing. She testified against Bai but said she didn't know for several days afterward that Li was dead.
Pei, 26, was sentenced last month to two years' probation.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have put a hold on Bai since his felony convictions, and Langford said he could be deported if he ever is freed from prison.
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