Human remains believed to belong to a 24-year-old man reported missing last year were found recently in a rural area of Chelan County, in a complex criminal case that’s involved dozens of search and rescue volunteers and formal discussions between King County prosecutors and Chinese law enforcement.
Tianyu “Tommy” Lyu, a Chinese national, was living in Bellevue when his friends reported him missing to police in November. In January, the FBI in Beijing was contacted by the Chinese Ministry for Public Safety, who reported that Chinese authorities had a man in custody who had confessed to fatally stabbing Lyu, inside the man’s Newcastle condominium, say court records in a criminal case involving a third man, Henry Gao.
Gao, a 25-year-old Taiwanese national, was arrested Feb. 5 at the San Francisco International Airport before he could board a flight home; he is charged in King County Superior Court with first-degree rendering criminal assistance, accused of helping Lyu’s suspected killer clean up the crime scene and dispose of Lyu’s body in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, according to court records and the Sheriff’s Office.
Booked into the King County Jail on Feb. 26, where he remains in custody in lieu of $1 million bail, Gao entered a not guilty plea to the charge in March, jail and court records show.
Lyu, Gao and Lyu’s suspected killer, who is also a Chinese national, were all friends involved in marijuana dealing here and Lyu was killed during a drug-related dispute, say charging papers in Gao’s case.
Michelle Scudder, a Seattle defense attorney who is representing Gao, said the state’s case against her client is built upon “an unreliable confession out of China” that’s inadmissible in court here. It’s unknown if the man was coerced or under duress when he confessed and implicated Gao, and it does not appear he has had any legal representation, she said.
“There’s really no physical evidence connected to Mr. Gao,” said Scudder. “There’s no evidence my client was implicated in any crime.”
The Seattle Times is not naming Lyu’s suspected killer because he has not been criminally charged here. China does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., so it is unclear whether he can legally be returned to King County.
The King County Sheriff’s Office announced in a Tuesday news release that partial human remains had been recovered during a May 5 evidence search and referenced Lyu’s disappearance.
Sgt. Tim Meyer, a sheriff’s spokesperson, said about 60 volunteers searched a 13-mile area along Highway 2 that aligns with cellphone data recovered from the suspected killer’s phone. A team of searchers, including high school students, found a discarded carpet bound with duct tape down an embankment in the woods between mileposts 75 and 76, which led to a more focused search and recovery of the remains, he said.
Milepost maps published by the Washington State Department of Transportation indicate that Leavenworth is located near Highway 2’s milepost 100, so the spot where the remains were found is approximately 25 miles northwest of there.
The charges against Gao note that when sheriff’s detectives searched the Newcastle condo, a rug or carpet appeared to be missing from the living room. Despite obvious efforts to clean up the crime scene, blood was found on the floor, walls and furniture and two empty bleach bottles were found in the trash, say the charges.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet determined if the remains belong to Lyu or made a ruling on the cause and manner of death.
But court records in Gao’s rendering criminal assistance case outline some of the complexities involved in the scientific attempt to confirm whether the remains are indeed Lyu’s.
Gao, who was to stand trial in June, objected to pushing his trial date to July, court records show. In a state motion filed Monday seeking more time, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Alexandra Voorhees wrote that winter weather conditions made it impossible to conduct a search along Highway 2 until the snow had melted.
Though the lead detective on the case had submitted a DNA sample from Lyu’s maternal aunt, who lives in California, scientists at the State Patrol Crime Lab informed the detective that the aunt isn’t a close enough relative for a possible comparison to be made with Lyu’s DNA.
The day after the carpet was found by the volunteer searchers, officials here met with their Chinese counterparts via video conference, Voorhees wrote.
“We formally requested, and Chinese officials agreed to provide us with, reports from their investigation,” including any audio or video recordings of statements made by Lyu’s suspected killer and a copy of the forensic download taken from the man’s phone, says the state’s motion, which was granted. The state will also need time to have the materials translated, it says.
Additionally, King County officials asked for China’s help in obtaining Lyu’s dental records and a DNA sample from Lyu’s mother, who lives there, to assist in identifying the remains, according to the motion. Chinese officials have not yet said when the requested evidence will be transferred to U.S. authorities.
Though the crime lab has expedited testing on evidence in the case against Gao, Voorhees explained in the motion that the DNA testing on the remains could take up to six weeks or longer to complete.
“Because the remains are skeletal, the DNA testing process is more complex. DNA will need to be extracted from the bones or teeth and then analyzed,” Voorhees wrote.
Voorhees noted the state has already provided Gao’s defense with 1,200 pages and 28 gigabytes of discovery so far, according to the motion.
“The State has worked with diligence in this matter to gather evidence from multiple jurisdictions, including a foreign country with whom the United States has strained diplomatic relationships,” she wrote.