Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Murder trial underway in June 2012 death of delivery driver

Cornell Dwayne Haugabook
Cornell Dwayne Haugabook

Cornell Dwayne Haugabook “ordered up a robbery” the night a 60-year-old Chinese food delivery driver was fatally shot on South 13th Street in June 2012, according to Assistant District Attorney Dru Lewis.

Opening statements began Wednesday in the case of Haugabook, 23, who is facing 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 in connection with the death of Zhen Bo Liu on June 14, 2012.

The co-owner of the China King, a Chinese Food restaurant where the victim worked in 2012, began to worry when Liu did not return from a delivery at 706 South 13th St. at about 10 p.m. June 14, 2012, Lewis said in his opening statements Wednesday morning.

“She was concerned because, by that time, he should have been back. Compared to the China King…mere blocks away from this location where Mr. Liu was delivering food,” Lewis said.

After repeated phone calls to Liu’s cell phone, the woman called her husband–who was also an owner of the restaurant–and told him Liu had not returned from the delivery, Lewis said. Her husband drove to the location near the intersection of 13th and Queen streets, where he found Liu in his vehicle.

“He saw Mr. Lui’s car. He saw Mr. Liu’s door wide open. He saw Mr. Liu’s foot on the door. And he saw Mr. Liu covered in blood and slumped over. There was nothing he could do. Mr. Liu was dead; dead in his vehicle at 706 South 13th St.,” Lewis said.

Liu’s life had been taken for $42 worth of chicken and rice and a handful of cash, Lewis said.

Prosecutors said some of the key evidence found in the investigation were two handguns that were reportedly used in the robbery, phone records of the order and prints on the victim’s car. One of the prints detectives found on Liu’s car was reportedly Haugabook’s palm print, according to Lewis.

Haugabook is one of six people were charged in connection with the robbery and shooting of Liu, but prosecutors say he fired the fatal shot.

“You’re going to hear from some of the people who were there that night. And you’re not going to like what they have to say,” Lewis said to the jury. “Their testimony is going to be corroborated by all the evidence in this case. What they’re going to tell you is, the night of June 14, 2012, this man, Cornell Haugabook, decided they were going to order up a robbery.”

But Chief Public Defender Jennifer Harjo, who is representing Haugabook in the case, said that Haugabook’s co-defendants are pointing the finger at him to escape a life-sentence in prison, while he is on trial “fighting for his life.”

“You are getting ready to hear from other people…who are trading their testimony for escaping life in prison,” Harjo said. “They’re going to come to you and they’re going to tell you…what they want you to hear so that they can gain their freedom. These people are coming to testify and point fingers at Cornell.”

Harjo said that while Liu’s death is a tragedy, Haugabrook is not guilty because “he didn’t do it.”

“Sure there are some side witnesses. And we’ll talk about the palm print…in this case. We’ll talk about the things that these witnesses say; and what they’re going to say; and they’ll mess up their stories; and they lied to the police. And I’m going to suggest at the end of this trial, they’re lying to you.”

Testimony continues Thursday in New Hanover County Superior Court.

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Christina Haley is a crime and courts reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6337 or christina.h@portcitydaily.com.

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