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Murder victim Elizabeth Zhong wasn't to be trusted, defence argues

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes gave graphic detail of Elizabeth Zhong's murder as the prosecution gave it's closing statements in the trial. Video / Pool

Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes gave graphic detail of Elizabeth Zhong's murder as the prosecution gave it's closing statements in the trial. Video / Pool


Craig Kapitan

Senior Multimedia Journalist, NZ Herald


Businesswoman Elizabeth Zhong's statements to multiple people before her violent death that she feared for her safety because of threats from Fang Sun cannot be taken at face value, Sun's lawyer told jurors today as he argued for a not guilty verdict.

"Things are not quite as clear or set in stone as some would like to think," Sam Wimsett said during his closing address for the murder trial, which is now in its sixth week in the High Court at Auckland.

"She might well have wanted to get the threat narrative out there," Wimsett said, suggesting that Zhong's complaints to police and in civil court affidavits seemed to align with moments during which she would have wanted to divert the spotlight from allegations of her own misdeeds. "She in essence wanted to cast these people on the other side in a sinister light."

Zhong's body was found in the boot of her Land Rover on the evening of November 28, 2020. The grisly discovery came amid a lengthy, heated civil court battle with Sun over control of their multi-million dollar businesses.

Believing that Zhong had caused him and his family to lose more than $26 million in investments, Sun was irate enough to break into her Sunnyhills home and stab her more than 20 times - nearly decapitating the 55-year-old grandmother - prosecutors alleged yesterday.

Wimsett responded today that his client, who has slimmed down since his arrest, was too overweight to have been "scaling tall fences or gates or be acting like some cat-like burglar" that night. And even if Sun could pull it off physically, he was well aware that Zhong had tried to portray him as "some sort of gangster with no regard for the law", Wimsett said.

"He's not a complete idiot. He's fully aware that the whole world would be looking to him if any harm happened to Ms Zhong."

So killing Zhong, Wimsett reasoned, would be the last thing his client would want to do.

"He's not some rogue operating on the margins of society or in secret like some sort of Netflix crime drama," Wimsett added, describing his client as having worked out his frustration with Zhong in a manner that showed "great respect for the law" - through the civil court system and by meeting criminal prosecutors about allegations she embezzled from their companies.

Wimsett also criticised the DNA evidence that was presented against his client, including a test of Zhong's fingernails that found the defendant 670 times more likely to be the contributor of the DNA than a man selected at random from the New Zealand population.
But the DNA test was not able to distinguish between the defendant and his son, who was known to Zhong and had travelled in her vehicle a year earlier, he noted.

The "incredibly low level of DNA" detected in the same bag as the clipped nails could have been transferred from an old item in the boot of her car, such as a receipt touched by his son, he suggested.

Wimsett also suggested that Sun continuing to work with a former police officer turned private investigator to illegally track Zhong in the days leading up to her death showed he had no plan to kill her.

The defence ended its address today in a similar way to how prosecutors began their address yesterday - by focusing intently on Zhong's ex-boyfriend, Kai Gui "David" Zheng.

While prosecutors insisted that Zheng couldn't have been the killer, Wimsett criticised police for not focusing more on the man he described as cold and callous, not to mention bad at acting. Zheng ended his testimony by sobbing as jurors filed out of the courtroom, shouting that he had been humiliated by questions from the defence that suggested he could be the killer.

The display, Wimsett said today, "raises questions in itself".

Fingerprints for Zheng, who had lived with Zhong during a Covid-19 lockdown earlier that year, had been found inside the house. But his DNA was also found on the outside of a door to the home's lounge that could have been used by the killer, Wimsett said, arguing that the door's exposure to the elements would suggest the DNA was fresh.

It's not in dispute that Zhong and Zheng had been at odds over a $20,000 inheritance that he owed her, but she could have also given him more money to hold as she tried to hide it from creditors and Sun, the defence suggested. What might have started as a normal visit that night could have escalated into an attack as they argued over money, Wimsett theorised.

If that was the case, Zheng could have then relied on his experience as a former police officer in China to avoid detection, Wimsett suggested.

"The place was cleaned extremely well - almost perfectly," he said of the crime scene. "Perhaps [it's] the best you can expect from a former police officer."

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating tomorrow, after Justice Neil Campbell sums up the case.