A 56-year-old woman found guilty for a hammer and knife attack in a Vancouver courtroom has been sentenced to 12 years in jail for attempted murder.
The sentence, handed to Qin Qin Shen Thursday, came after Crown prosecutors sought widely different jail sentences, ranging from six to 18 years imprisonment. In her ruling, Judge Kathryn Denhoff weighed the fact the attack took place in a courtroom — where the public expects justice to be handed out in safety — with Shen's mental state, alcohol consumption and the fact she planned the attack weeks ahead of time.
“She wanted her dead,” Denhoff told the court.
The case dates back to 2021. Shen attacked Jing Lu — her perceived tormentor — with a household hammer and filleting knife after more than a 15-year-long online feud during in which Shen believed Lu wanted to kill her son by boiling him in oil.
At the time, the two feuding women had been involved in a series of online civil court hearings. In May 2021, Shen requested an in-person date at the Vancouver Law Courts.
Before the hearing, Shen drank a bottle of wine for courage and dressed in red to hide any blood splatter, Denhoff later heard.
When Shen arrived at the court, she went through a COVID-19 check at the entrance of the building and found the courtroom. Security camera footage later showed Shen pacing up and down a hall.
A knife in one hand and a hammer in the other, Shen entered the courtroom and struck Lu on the head and stabbed at her chest, Denhoff later heard.
“She could feel blood running down her back,” said Denhoff, noting Lu cried out some version of “She’s trying to kill me.”
Lu grabbed Shen’s wrist to defend herself from more knife blows.
The court clerk hit a panic button, and sheriffs ran to the scene, arresting Shen.
Lu was taken to hospital with injuries to her head, a major vein, a lung and her heart — the result of 10 blows from each weapon, the court would later hear.
On Feb. 14, 2023, Denhoff found Shen guilty on four charges, including attempted murder.
The judge accepted one psychiatrist’s assessment that Shen had the capacity to know attacking Lu was wrong by society’s standards.
“I cannot conclude Ms. Shen was psychotic at the time of the attack,” Denhoff said.
’Not a scintilla of remorse,’ says prosecutor
On Wednesday, Shen entered the courtroom to learn what punishment she would face for her violent actions.
Dressed in a dark green sweatsuit, white and grey runners, and with short-cropped hair, the woman spent the early parts of the sentencing on the edge of her chair, her right hand blocking her face from a courtroom sketch artist.
Through a translator, Shen heard Crown prosecutor Jacinta Lawton calling on the judge to hand down a “significant custodial sentence” of 15 to 18 years in jail, minus four years credit for time served in custody.
“There’s not a scintilla of remorse,” said Lawton. “In fact, she maintains she’s justified in her actions.”
The Crown prosecutor said Shen was not only a “lucky murderer” — because Lu lived — but a “lucky first-degree murderer” because of its premeditated nature.
Shen’s “planned and deliberate attempt to kill someone” along with where and how she did it warranted a higher than normal sentence, argued the Crown prosecutor.
Shen’s alcohol consumption acted as “liquid courage” to carry out a planned murder, as well as a convenient excuse to say she couldn’t remember certain episodes of the attack, Lawton argued.
The Crown prosecutor said combined effects of alcohol consumption and stress should not mitigate Shen’s violent decision to try and kill someone at a court of law.
“At the end of the day, looking at all of the evidence, it is Ms. Shen’s hatred of Ms. Lu that motivated her to do what she did,” said Lawton.
“She did it in a courtroom, which is the seat in our society, the very forum where people come to resolve differences peaceably… The message has to be that this cannot be tolerated.”
‘Her whole life crumbled’
Shen’s lawyers stressed she had no criminal record before the attack. A trained engineer, Shen had worked for a number international firms before immigrating from China to Canada in 2005 with her then-husband and eight-year-old son, according to Shen's lawyer Amanda Wilcox.
Wilcox said she maintained a “stable” life until she met Lu. But as their feud deepened, Wilcox said her mental health deteriorated. She began drinking daily and stopped caring for her son.
“Everything kind of spirals,” said Wilcox. “Her whole life crumbled essentially because of this one person.”
What made Shen different was her lack of an ability to cope, and eventually, attack Lu, the court heard.
“We all experience stress but many don’t experience a decade-long deterioration of our life,” said Wilcox. “It is an important mitigating circumstance.”
Wilcox asked the judge for a six-year jail sentence, minus four years credited for time served. Cox said the circumstances of the crime and past court precedent meant Shen should serve a much shorter sentence than Crown sought.
“Her dispute with her is intertwined with the destruction of her life,” Wilcox said. “The public is not at risk.”
Shen showed little emotion as Denhoff read her ruling.
The judge said Shen showed little remorse for her actions and saw no medical evidence that Shen’s mental illness and alcohol intoxication caused her to attack Lu. The attack, said Denhoff, was not spontaneous and involved several weeks of planning.
“The fact that the offence was committed in a courtroom, and taking into consideration that Ms. Shen has been suffering from significant mental illness — even though it did not contribute to the offence — an appropriate sentence is 12 years,” said Denhoff
Denhoff ordered Shen to provide a DNA sample to authorities and prohibited her from possessing weapons for 10 years. The judge also prohibited Shen from directly or indirectly contacting Lu and her family, including in person, in online forums or through any electronic device.
Given time served, Shen will be jailed for eight years.
With files from Jeremy Hainsworth