A Wilmington judge Friday denied the release of a 15-year-old boy charged with first-degree murder in the death of a food delivery driver.
Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening ordered that Mustafaa Friend remain in custody until a probable cause hearing July 3.
Friend is charged as a juvenile with the June 14 shooting death of Zhen Bo Liu, a delivery driver for China King on South 17th Street.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Smith said during a hearing Friday morning in juvenile court that Friend was with Marvin White, 18; Rasheed Thompson, 16; Manije Johnson-Martin, 16; and Cornell Dewayne Haugabook Jr., 20, when the group concocted a plan to rob a delivery driver.
After placing an order with China King, Smith said, Friend and Haugabook, each armed with a handgun, confronted the 60-year-old man at 13th and Queen streets.
Smith said Friend shot Liu in the foot and then Haugabook shot him in the face, killing him. The two returned to a nearby house and shared the food with the others.
After eating, the group, "came back to view the body and go through the car," said Smith.
Police say all that was missing when Liu's body was found later that night was the order of chicken wings and shrimp fried rice and $48 in cash.
Smith said that in police interviews White, Johnson-Martin and Thompson all point the finger at Haugabook and Friend.
Friend is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, larceny, conspiracy to commit breaking and entering, and armed robbery.
Corpening informed the young, shackled Friend that under North Carolina law because he is under 18, he is not eligible for the death penalty, but instead "you face imprisonment for a term of your natural life" without the possibility of parole.
Corpening also appointed a public defender to Friend's case.
According to the New Hanover County District Attorney's Office, the DA's office will review the case to determine if they want it moved to adult court.
If that determination is made, a transfer hearing will be set before a judge who will ultimately decide whether the case will be transferred and Friend tried as an adult.
Friend's next custody status hearing is set for July 26.
Update - Court proceedings begin
A New Hanover County judge ordered that a 15-year-old boy remain in custody Friday on a first-degree murder charge.
He is among five people arrested in the case of a delivery driver who was found shot to death last week on South 13th Street.
The prosecution said the boy shot Zhen Bo Liu, 60, in the foot, and fellow defendant Dwayne Haugabook, 20, shot him in the face.
First court appearances were scheduled for later Friday for the other suspects.
Check back for more on this developing story.
– F.T. Norton
Wilmington police have arrested five people, including a 15-year-old boy, for allegedly shooting a delivery driver dead last week.
Their motive, according to a top police official, was free Chinese food.
The arrests, announced during a Thursday press conference at the Wilmington Police Department, raised fresh emotions around the killing of Zhen Bo Liu, a 60-year-old delivery driver whose slumped body was found in a car on South 13th Street. His death rippled as far away as China, where Liu has family.
"Mr. Liu was only trying to make a living doing his job, and he was brutally murdered for no reason whatsoever," said Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, his tone tinged with anger. "This is a horrible case and one our detectives took personally."
The suspects, ranging in age from 15 to 20, stand accused of ordering food from China King, a restaurant on South 17th Street, in a scheme to lure a delivery driver to a dark street so they could rob him. Liu happened to answer the call, and when he stopped his car to deliver an order of chicken wings and shrimp fried rice, the assailants shot him, police said.
Charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery are Cornell Dwayne Haugabook Jr., 20, and the 15-year-old juvenile, whose identity is confidential. The other three, Manije Daneek Johnson-Martin, 16, Rasheed Ramone Thompson, 16, and Marvin Lee White, 18, face one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David, who also addressed reporters during Thursday's conference, said a committee will be discussing whether to seek the death penalty against Haugabook and a district court judge will later decide whether to try the juvenile as an adult. Under current law, defendants younger than 18 are ineligible for the death penalty, but the juvenile could still face life without parole.
"I've been a prosecutor now in this office for 13 years. I've handled a bulk of the murder cases," David said, "and by any objective measure this is one of the worst I've seen."
At about 9:30 p.m. on June 14, Liu left the China King restaurant headed for an address on South 13th near Queen Street. He parked in front of a yellow house. Police have not detailed the events that transpired after he stopped, except to say that he was shot.
After the killing, the assailants ate the food – about $46 worth – at a nearby house.
"If that's not cold blooded, I've never seen it," Evangelous said.
A father, Liu moved from Shanghai several months ago and worked part-time at China King, said Ting Ngai Cheng, Liu's friend and the restaurant's owner.
The restaurant was closed the day after Liu's death, and someone had taped a card to the front door. On the envelope, someone had written, "God Bless You. Lots of Love to All of You."
Liu's killing set in motion what officials described as an extensive police investigation, with detectives logging more than 600 hours since the crime occurred, Evangelous said.
Law enforcement officials said they hoped the arrests sent a warning to anyone thinking about engaging in such robberies, which occur with a measure of frequency but usually do not result in serious injuries or death.
"If you're going to be involved in this type of criminal activity, we're going to hunt you down and we're going to put you in jail," Evangelous said.
None of the suspects have serious criminal records in North Carolina. But Haugabook, the 20-year-old facing a murder charge, was released from a Florida prison in February after serving three years for burglary and grand theft, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
During Thursday's press conference, David made mention that North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically try 16-year-olds as adults, saying the four older suspects in this case, two of whom are 16, are "as old as their grandparents in the eyes of the law."
David said he visits schools every year to talk to young people about choices and consequences, "and one thing I share with them is that if they're going to commit adult crime, then it is the position of my office that we're going to try them like adults and treat them like adults."
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