Defense-hired experts testify about DNA, wounds in Modesto restaurant slaying

Zhi Jian Mei
Zhi Jian Mei Modesto Police Department

A defense-hired expert testified Wednesday that DNA material found underneath a Modesto restaurant owner’s fingernails matched his employee, who is accused of bludgeoning his boss with a meat cleaver in 2011.

Zhi Jian Mei, 33, has told police that he and his boss, Wing Ming Chan, were involved in a violent struggle over the meat cleaver the night Chan was found dead inside his restaurant, China Gourmet. Mei is charged with murder in Chan’s death.

The defendant’s trial continued Wednesday morning with testimony from Gary Harmor, chief forensic serologist at the Serological Research Institute in Richmond. His Bay Area laboratory provides forensic services that include advanced DNA analysis.

Authorities investigating Chan’s death obtained fingernail scrapings from the restaurant owner’s hands and provided samples of that DNA material to Harmor’s lab. He told the jury that he found a mixture of two human contributors in the fingernail scrapings; the major contributor was Chan.

“In my opinion, the minor donor was Mr. Mei,” Harmor said on the witness stand.

Chan’s death occurred sometime after 9 p.m. on May 4, 2011, at his restaurant in the Century Center at Oakdale and Orangeburg roads in northeast Modesto. Mei had waited until after the restaurant closed to tell Chan he was quitting his job. An argument between the two began and escalated.

Mei told police he ran from his boss into the kitchen, where he grabbed the meat cleaver. Testimony has indicated that Chan then retreated into a back room. The defendant has said that he and his boss then wrestled over the meat cleaver, cutting themselves in the process.

Mei said, “I was scared, so I beat him until he died,” according to Modesto police.

The defendant had cuts and puncture wounds on his hands, bruises and scrapes on his face and neck, and superficial cuts on his shoulder and chest. Two cuts on his hands required sutures at a Modesto hospital. The jury was shown photos of the defendant’s injuries Wednesday afternoon.

Curved scrapes found on the left side of Mei’s neck are consistent with someone gripping the defendant’s neck as the hand slipped down, according to testimony from Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist who works for the Alameda County Coroner’s Office. She also has a private practice as a forensic pathology expert.

Melinek told the jury that Mei’s chest wound was a superficial cut consistent with wounds caused by knives with uneven edges. There also was a superficial cut found on the defendant’s right temple, along with other cuts and scrapes found on his face.

She testified that Mei had defensive wounds on his hands and upper shoulder consistent when someone is raising the back of their hands, arms or shoulders to protect themselves from a weapon or an attacker.

Stanislaus County Forensic Pathologist Sung-Ook Baik has testified that Chan suffered a cerebral concussion, indicating he was knocked unconscious during the violent confrontation with Mei.

Melinek told the jury there was no evidence that confirmed Chan suffered a cerebral concussion because Baik did not conduct a microscopic examination of Chan’s brain. Spotting torn brain nerves under a microscope is the only way to determine a concussion occurred without examining Chan while he was still alive.

She testified that Chan died from blood loss, but none of the injuries would have instantly killed him.

Chan suffered a skull fracture during the incident, Melinek said, but no brain injury. She said the brain swelling found on Chan was caused by a lack of blood to the brain. Even with all of his injuries, Melinek said Chan could have continued “fighting to the bitter end.”

The murder trial is expected to continue Thursday in Stanislaus Superior Court.

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts