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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Botched kidnapping attempt
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 20, 2003
Date of arrest: July 22, 2004
Date of birth: January 30, 1983
Victim profile: Cecilia Zhang, 9
Method of murder: Suffocation (covered her face with a towel and held his hand over her mouth)
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Status: Pleads guilty to second-degree murder. Sentenced to life in prison (minimum 15 years) on May 12, 2006

photo gallery

agreed statement of facts

Victim Impact Statements

raymond zhang sherry xu

Min Chen (born January 30, 1983) is a Chinese visa student convicted of first-degree murder in the case of the death of Cecilia Zhang, originally missing for months and also known as Dong-Yue Zhang (March 30, 1994 October 20, 2003.

Chen, a Shanghai native who has lived in Canada on a visa since 2001, allegedly entered Zhang's home through a kitchen window and removed her from her home between 3:00 AM and 4:00 AM, leaving by a side door.

According to Police, Min Chen knew a female boarder who lived at the Zhang home between September 2002, and March 2003 and had visited the Zhang home at least four times. Police said that Cecilia would have been comfortable in Chen's company under normal social circumstances.

At the time of Chen's kidnapping of Cecilia Zhang, Chen had already stopped his English studies at a Seneca College campus located very close to Cecilia's home in North York, Ontario. Neither did Chen complete his Grade 12 level courses at a local private academy. Chen, whose father is an airline executive and whose mother is a Shanghai police officer, had been receiving money from his parents back in China.

Min Chen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on May 9, 2006. According to an agreed statement of facts read out in a Brampton, Ontario courthouse, Chen was failing in his college studies and feared deportation back to his native China. Being a visa student who was broke, he desperately needed $25,000 to enter into a marriage of convenience as a means of obtaining right of permanent residence in Canada.

Cecilia's death was the result of Chen botching up his poorly planned kidnapping during the early hours of October 20, 2003 at Cecilia's home. When Cecilia tried to scream, Chen covered her face with a towel and held his hand over her mouth. Cecilia had stopped struggling by the time Chen placed her inside the trunk of his car. When Chen checked on Cecilia later on, he discovered that she had stopped breathing.

Chen was represented by well known criminal lawyer John Rosen, who had defended killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo. Min Chen is sentenced to life imprisonment with a chance of parole after 15 years.

Human rights lawyers have noted that under Chinese law, when Chen has completed his sentence and is deported back to China, he will likely face a second trial and sentence in China. Canadian law forbids this practice, which is known as double jeopardy, while Chinese law permits it if a Chinese resident commits a crime on foreign soil. Trial and punishment in the other country is seen as a mitigating factor, but does not preclude further imprisonment or even execution in China. 

The Cecilia Zhang case

CBC News Online

May 10, 2006

After five agonizing months of wondering what had happened to their missing daughter, Raymond Zhang and Sherry Xu got the worst possible answer when a hiker found the remains of Dong-Yue Cecilia Zhang on Saturday, March 27, 2004. It was three days before Cecilia's 10th birthday.

About four months later, police in Brampton, Ont., announced they had arrested Min Chen, 21, a visa student from Shanghai, China, and charged him with first-degree murder.

Peel Regional Police Chief Noel Catney said Chen had met Cecilia and had been in her family's home at least four times. Chen knew a woman who lived as a border in the Zhang home between September 2002 and March 2003, police said.

Chen has been in Canada on a student visa from China since 2001. His visa was to have expired in August 2004.

In pleading guilty to second-degree murder in May 2006, Chen admitted he kidnapped Cecilia in October 2003 in order to extract a ransom payment from her parents so he could pay for an arranged marriage and remain in Canada.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2003, Chen tried to pick a locked door at the Zhang house with a knife and tossed it in the backyard when he failed. He then slid open a kitchen window. He left fingerprints on the knife and window.

After police informed Chen he was their prime suspect, he visited 14 different car-care locations in an attempt to replace the liner in his trunk, where he had stowed Cecilia's body.

Chen told investigators he never meant to kill Cecilia and didn't think her parents would involve the police. He said he unintentionally suffocated the child when he muzzled her to keep her quiet.

In a statement released following Chen's arrest, Cecilia's parents said, "Nothing can bring Cecilia back, but we believe that this development and the judicial process ahead will bring a sense of closure that will help us move forward."

Cecilia's case received international attention. Her parents appeared on America's Most Wanted and the search for the little girl eventually involved police in China. It was widely speculated that Cecilia had been abducted for ransom, though no demands were ever made. Cecilia's parents mortgaged their home and friends of the family helped raise a $165,000 reward for her safe return.

During the search for Cecilia, her image was everywhere, with flyers and posters displayed prominently throughout the Toronto area.



CBC News Online | May 12, 2006

May 12, 2006:
Min Chen, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang, will spend 15 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. At the parole hearing in a Brampton court, Crown lawyers had asked for parole eligibility in the 17- to 20-year range. Chen's lawyers asked for 12 years.

May 9, 2006:
Min Chen pleads guilty to second-degree murder in the death of nine-year-old Cecilia Zhang. Chen was charged with first-degree murder.

May 1, 2006:
The judge in the trial of Min Chen, the man accused of abducting and killing Cecilia, meets with Crown and defence lawyers and later announces that the trial will be put off until May 9. John Rosen, Chen's lawyer, says there was a "logistical reason" for the delay.

June 6, 2005:
The preliminary hearing for Min Chen, the man charged in Cecilia Zhang's murder, begins in Brampton, Ont. The judge imposes a publication ban on all details; such a ban is common for preliminary hearings in criminal matters. The hearing is expected to last 15 days.

July 23, 2004:
Police release the woman who was arrested on the same day as Min Chen, Cecilia's accused killer, and say she will be treated as a witness in the case.

July 22, 2004:
Police in Brampton, Ont., announce Min Chen, 21, a visa student from Shanghai, China, has been arrested in the murder of Cecilia Zhang and charged with first-degree murder.

April 1, 2004:
The Peel Regional Police force takes over the Cecilia Zhang murder investigation, with the co-operation of Toronto police, because Cecilia's body was found in their jurisdiction.

March 28, 2004:
Police confirm the remains found the previous day are those of Cecilia Zhang. Police Chief Julian Fantino urges the killers to consider surrendering early because the police "don't intend to give up." Homicide Inspector Rick DeFacendis asks for the public's patience in a case that he said will be difficult to solve. Neighbours adorn the steps of Cecilia's home with flowers and candles in an outpouring of grief and support for the family.

March 27, 2004:
A hiker in a ravine in Mississauga, Ont., near Toronto, finds Cecilia Zhang's remains.

February 2004:
About 4,000 taxicabs display Cecilia's photo in an attempt to gain more information.

Jan. 22, 2004:
Police rule out money as the motivating force in Cecilia's case. The reward fund, which had stood at $165,000, drops to $65,000 as many reward donations pegged to expire on the Chinese New Year are cancelled. Raymond Zhang nonetheless offers $200,000 for his daughter's safe return, saying he'll mortgage his house to pay the reward.

Dec. 23, 2003:
Toronto police urge Cecilia's abductors to come forward with a ransom demand.

Dec. 2003:
Chinese police join in what has become a global search for Cecilia.

Nov. 12, 2003:
Police announce that Cecelia's parents are not suspects in the case and release videos of Cecilia and copies of her schoolwork.

Nov. 1, 2003:
Cecilia's parents appear on America's Most Wanted to an estimated 10 million viewers. Investigators receive 13 new tips after the show airs.

Oct. 27, 2003:
Toronto police announce a $50,000 reward for the safe return of Cecilia. A reward fund set up by Cecilia's neighbours contains $15,000.

Oct. 26, 2003:
Cecilia's mother issues an open letter to three Chinese-language newspapers, begging for her return. "I don't seek retribution and I won't bring this to the courts. I am begging you, release my Cecilia," writes Sherry Xu.

Oct. 25, 2003:
Cecilia's neighbours set up a special fund for reward donations for anyone who give tips leading to her safe return.

Oct. 24, 2003:
Cecilia's parents appear publicly for the first time since her abduction, making a plea for her safe return.

Oct. 22, 2003:
Police make a strong statement, stressing that they think Cecilia is still alive, but don't believe her abduction was a random occurrence. "There is nothing that convinces us that this is a random attack by a predator, nothing to this point in the investigation," said Toronto police Deputy Chief Mike Boyd at a media briefing. The media speculate that Cecilia was taken because kidnappers hoped to extort a ransom from her parents.

Oct. 20, 2003:
Cecilia's parents discover their daughter is missing when they enter her bedroom to wake her for school. A window on the house appears to have been tampered with. The morning Cecilia disappears her mother's cellphone rings twice, but nobody is on the line when Sherry Xu answers. The calls were later traced to two different pay phones in the Brampton and Mississauga area.

Cecilia and her parents move to Toronto from Jiangsu province in China.

March 30, 1994:
Dong-Yue Cecilia Zhang is born to parents Raymond Zhang and Sherry Xu.


Chinese visa student admits to killing Cecilia News Staff

Wed. May. 10 2006

The Chinese visa student who snatched nine-year-old Toronto schoolgirl Cecilia Zhang from her family home in October 2003 pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Tuesday, in what is being described as a botched kidnapping attempt.

Min Chen, originally charged with first-degree murder in the schoolgirl's disappearance and subsequent murder, entered the surprise plea in a Brampton, Ont. courtroom in what would have been the first day of his trial.

Chen's defence lawyer John Rosen told reporters that each side had much to lose in a trial.

"There is one factor I think everybody should keep in mind and that is that Sherry Xu and Raymond Zhang, the parents of Cecilia Zhang, are emotionally fragile," Rosen told reporters.

"My client had no desire to put them through unnecessarily a lengthy and difficult trial that would further compromise their mental and physical well-being."

Neither Cecilia's parents nor Chen's were in the courtroom to hear the guilty plea.

Cecilia's parents react

In a victim impact statement played in court, Raymond Zhang expressed his grief over the loss of his daughter.

"Oct. 20, 2003, is the darkest day in my life. My beloved Cecilia was kidnapped from our home. After the day, my whole world collapsed," Zhang said in the statement.

"I will never see my beloved Cecilia again in this life. I will not be able to hear her laughter again, and I will not get another hug or kiss from her. No words can express the pain, the loss and the anger in my heart."

The video of her mother, Sherry Xu, clearly showed where the tape had been stopped and started again as she broke down weeping.

"She was abandoned in the wilderness by her murderer and was covered by snow for 161 days," Xu said. "How cruel is the human heart? Cecilia will never come back. She is gone forever."

The Crown is seeking to have Chen serve between 17 and 20 years of his sentence before he is eligible for parole while the defence is asking Chen be granted parole no later than 12 years into his term.

Justice Bruce Durno will rule Friday morning on Chen's parole eligibility.

"I expect though that we're looking at 15 to 20 years before there's any eligibility for parole and then of course once that's finished, he has to deal with the legal system in China -- far worse," CTV's legal expert Steven Skurka said, appearing on Canada AM.

Skurka said it was almost guaranteed that Chen would be deported when he was released on parole.

"China takes the position no matter what happens in Canada with a Chinese resident, they'll independently look at the case and believe me, he faces far worse in that country."

Chen admits to murder

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Chen admitted he killed Cecilia by placing his hand over her mouth as he carried the schoolgirl from her home.

The judge asked the 23-year-old directly if he understood that pleading guilty to second-degree murder would mean a sentence of life in prison. Chen replied that he did.

The agreed statement of facts reveals that the murder was a kidnapping attempt that went wrong.

The gifted Grade Four student was snatched from her home in October 2003 as her parents slept metres away.

Court heard that Chen went to the home in October 2003 to kidnap Cecilia for ransom.

Chen had apparently befriended the girl and her family through a woman who lived briefly in the Zhang home between September 2002 and March 2003.

Chen, who was in Canada under a student visa that was about to expire, was desperate to remain in the country, CTV's Peter Murphy said.

In the agreed statement of facts, Chen said "it was never his plan to harm or to cause the death of Cecilia."

"He wanted to keep her alive, obtain a sizable ransom and return her to family," according to the statement.

With his funds running out, Chen wanted to secure $25,000 that would pay for a marriage of convenience to keep him in the country, Murphy said.

"And so in October of 2003 -- he had known the Zhang family because he had visited boarders there -- he broke into the house through the window, sneaked up in the middle of the night along the corridor, looking for Cecilia to kidnap her."

When Chen found the young girl in the dead of night, she was wrapped in a towel, Murphy reported.

"Fearing that she was going to scream, he attacked her, wrapped the towel around her head, put his arm around her neck, choked her and dragged her outside to his trunk and put her in," he said.

By the time he got her into the trunk of his car, her body was limp.

Chen drove a short distance away, and when he went to check in on the schoolgirl, she wasn't breathing.

"So this was a botched kidnapping attempt, a very incompetent one as well, because he didn't have any plans to take her anywhere. He was hoping that he could just leave her in the trunk, phone the family, get the money, and then let her go," Murphy said.

Botched kidnap attempt

Chen's defence lawyer told reporters the kidnap plan was a spontaneous one that went awry.

"It wasn't as if there were days or weeks of planning. He went to the house probably, in my opinion, not knowing exactly what he was going to do," Rosen said.

"He came without any weapon, without any mask, without any means of overcoming any resistance, without any noxious substance, tape, rope, gags -- nothing like that -- and most importantly, came without gloves and left his fingerprints on the window."

The brazen early-morning abduction prompted a door-to-door search in the area surrounding the family home in northeast Toronto and extended to an international probe where local investigators were collaborating with police in Asia.

But the search ended in tragedy when her skeletal remains were found five months later in a wooded ravine in Mississauga, west of Toronto.

Chen was arrested and charged on July 21, 2004.

The Shanghai-born man entered Canada on a student visa on New Year's Day 2001, a month before his 18th birthday.

Outside the courthouse, Peel Region police Sgt. Todd Moore read a statement on behalf of Cecilia's parents.

"We have experienced a sense of loss that cannot be explained in understandable terms... each day has been extremely difficult," said the statement.

"Two-and-a-half years have passed and each single day has been extremely difficult. The fact that there is now a guilty plea by the person accused in this case brings some sense of closure to us, but no act will ever bring our dear Cecilia back."



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