Jury deliberates in delivery driver murder trial

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Cornell Dwayne Haugabook
Cornell Dwayne Haugabook

Jury deliberations are underway in the case of a Wilmington man charged with first-degree murder, following a five-day trial in New Hanover County Superior Court.

Cornell Haugabook’s trial on charges of first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm into occupied property began Aug. 5.

Read related story: Murder trial underway in June 2012 death of delivery driver

Haugabook was one of six people charged in connection with the death of 60-year-old Zhen Bo Liu, a Chinese food delivery driver who was fatally shot on June 14, 2012.

In closing arguments Tuesday by District Attorney Ben David, the State laid out evidence in the case that they argued could give the jury enough to convict Haugabook on each charge.

David, pointing to a picture of Liu placed on the witnesses stand for jurors to see, said the victim in had left his wife in China to pursue a job in America. Liu worked in Wilmington as a Chinese food delivery driver and sent money back to his home.

“There is a widow in China, who will be waking up in China tomorrow and the verdict that I’m going to ask you to render should echo not just through this community but all the way to there,” David said.

More than 60 pieces of evidence were entered in the trial and testimony came from more than 20 witnesses, David said. One piece of evidence was a .22-caliber bullet that was extracted from Liu’s sixth rib.

“Life is precious…but it’s not precious to [Haugabook]. It’s worth $42.27 [in food] and some assorted change taken from a dying man,” David said.

The bullet had killed Liu after he was shot in the face as he was robbed of Chinese food and cash, David said.

“After [the bullet] entered his left cheek, it took a hard turn down his neck, bisected an artery and went all the way through his torso to reach its final resting point,” David said. “A killer sits 25 feet from you. There is no doubt about who fired this shot anymore.”

David said testimony from co-defendants in the case showed Haugabook had planned the robbery, ordered food and orchestrated the delivery outside an abandoned home in the 700 block of South 13th Street in Wilmington.

“They were all saying substantially the same thing. This defendant was the one who brought the guns to the dance, no one else…it was Cornell Haugabook who shot him up top. That’s never changed,” David said.

Along with testimony from several co-defendants in the case that put the defendant at the scene, David presented two palm prints that crime scene investigators pulled from the driver’s side door of Liu’s car.

“How do you explain that his palm prints are on the car? He doesn’t know Zen Bo Liu. How do you explain these?,” David asked while holding up the finger prints for the jury to see.

“The best evidence of [the co-defendants’] testimony being truthful was it was corroborated by…the physical evidence in this case,” he added.

Chief Public Defender Jennifer Harjo, who is representing Haugabook in the case, argued the State’s evidence was lacking in credibility.

Harjo challenged the evidence of the finger prints found on Liu’s vehicle. The evidence of an in-depth analysis of the finger prints during a specialist’s testimony had not existed since Haugabook was charged with first-degree murder until last month, Harjo said.

The fingerprint analysis of the vehicle also did not show any fingerprints belonging to Liu, she added.

“She took the prints off the car…and no documentation. And then what’s just truly loud and amazing, is that she makes all these decisions and she didn’t have, not only the manner in which they took the prints off the car, she didn’t take any notes either,” Harjo said about the crime scene technician who gathered evidence.

In regard to the testimony from other co-defendants in the case, Harjo said a number of Haugabook’s co-defendants in the case were given “sweetheart deals” for their guilty pleas in exchange for their testimony. Harjo questioned if their testimony was accurate or given without bias.

“[The State] has to prove to you identification. One of the things is before you find the defendant is guilty, that he is the person that did it…they have to prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt,” Harjo said.

Harjo said a number of the co-defendants were hesitant to give their testimony during the trial. She asked the jury to consider whether “the person has an interest in the outcome of the case.”

Harjo also argued there was no evidence that anyone involved in the robbery intended to kill Liu.

“You have a group of kids who are out doing things that they shouldn’t do…as bad as their conduct was–and it was pretty horrific–the evidence was not that they premeditated and deliberated about committing some type of murder. They were just out and messing around and thought they’d get away with some free Chinese food and things went horribly wrong.”

If convicted of the crime, Haugabook could face life in prison. In August 2012, the State filed a motion to seek the death penalty in the case. But in March, Superior Court Judge Douglas Sasser order that the case could not proceed as a capital murder trial after a mental health evaluation concluded Haugabook is mentally retarded, as defined by North Carolina law.

Jury deliberation will continue Wednesday in New Hanover County Superior Court.

Check back later for the verdict in the case