A police officer in charge of searching a West Vancouver mansion after a suspected killer was arrested testified in B.C. Supreme Court Monday about making a grisly discovery in the garage.
Sgt. Aaron Kazuta, a member of the Vancouver Police Department’s emergency response team, testified Monday at the opening of a murder trial for 56-year-old Li Zhao, of West Vancouver, who is accused of killing his wife’s cousin, 42-year-old Gang Yuan on May 2, 2015.
Yuan, a wealthy businessman with ties to both China and Canada, was found dead at a British Properties address in the early hours of May 3, 2015.
Zhao faces a charge of second-degree murder in the case, as well as a charge of indignity to human remains, for chopping up Yuan’s body.
On Monday, Zhao pleaded not guilty to both charges, through a Mandarin interpreter.
Kazuta testified that he was called to a house at 963 King Georges Way in West Vancouver in the early morning hours of May 3, 2015.
Before Kazuta went to the house, other officers told him in an initial briefing session that “a body had been found on the driveway by a family member,” he told Justice Terence Schultes, who is hearing the trial without a jury. “There was a lot of blood.”
Kazuta said he was told a man had been seen pacing back and forth inside the house with a rifle and power tools had been heard running in the garage area. Kazuta said he was also told the man had been seen washing power tools in a sink.
Kazuta said after the suspect was coaxed out of the house by police negotiators and taken into custody, his job was to lead a team through the house, making sure nobody else was hiding there.
When he got to the garage, Kazuta testified he found several garbage bags on the floor near a freezer, blocking a cabinet door that he needed to open.
As he reached down to grab one of the bags and move it, Kazuta said he felt something soft in his hands.
Kazuta put the bag down and told other officers not to touch the bags. But one of the other officers accidently stepped on one of the bags as he stepped over them to open the door, Kazuta said.
That officer told the others he thought he had stepped on a body part.
Kazuta was the first of several police officers to testify during a special legal procedure at the start of the trial, known as a voir dire, held to determine if certain statements or exhibits should be admitted as evidence.
Zhao’s defence lawyer Ian Donaldson indicated he will argue that statements to police should not be admitted as evidence in the case.
Another police officer, Sgt. Tom Wolff von Gudenberg, testified on Tuesday about being called to the scene to read Zhao his charter rights.
Wolff von Gudenberg testified other officers who had spoken to Zhao’s wife initially briefed him. She told them she went out for a walk at 3 p.m. May 2 and came back to find Yuan’s body on the driveway in a pool of blood.
Zhao’s wife had told officers Zhao and Yuan were in business together in “state agriculture.”
On Tuesday, Schultes lifted a publication ban on evidence being heard during the voir dire, ruling that since the trial is being heard without a jury, a publication ban isn’t necessary to ensure a fair trial.
The two videotaped statements are expected to be played in court later this week as part of the voir dire to determine whether the statements are admissible.
Following Yuan’s death, a separate civil legal fight about his estate – estimated to be worth between $20 million and $50 million – broke out as at least five women came forward claiming their children had been fathered by Yuan and were therefore heirs to his fortune.
Those legal claims have not yet been resolved.
The criminal trial is expected to continue until the end of June.