- 2014 - February - 26th -
Judge Kevin Blazs

'I could never be a kid again'; family against motion that would allow father's killer to seek reduced sentence

By Marilyn Young, Editor

You don’t have to hear Kew Chin’s three children say the words to sense their pain.

Reading them is enough.

“The only memories I have of my dad is his funeral and going to his grave every single Sunday during my entire childhood,” reads the transcript of Alice Chin’s testimony from a January hearing.

And it doesn’t matter that their father was stolen from them nearly 26 years ago by an armed robber’s bullet.

“From that moment a part of me died as well. My childhood was gone. I could never be a kid again,” Arthur Chin testified.

The night Curtis Cross shot Kew Chin, the children lost their father, their mother lost her husband and the family lost its spirit.

Chin was 42. His children were 11, 8 and 4. Just babies, really.

Cross pleaded guilty to killing Chin in 1988 and has been serving a life sentence since then. With the exception of an occasional parole hearing, the Chins never thought their father’s killer would have a chance to be free again.

But, a motion filed by State Attorney Angela Corey’s office asked a judge to consider reducing Cross’s sentence.

The motion was filed under a relatively new statute that allows a state attorney to ask a judge to reduce or suspend a sentence for convicted felons who have provided “substantial assistance” to prosecutors.

Testimony showed Cross provided prosecutors with key information and testimony in several cases.

Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei said Cross earned the right for his case to be heard due to his cooperation.

Mantei said he has only made three other requests under the statute: once in an armed robbery case and once in an armed burglary. He believes the third case was a drug case. One case is still awaiting a ruling, but the sentences in the other two cases were reduced, he said.

Mantei and Jackelyn Barnard, spokeswoman for the office, were unsure Tuesday afternoon how many times Corey’s office had filed similar motions under the new law. Barnard said she would try to find an answer but did not provide one.

Albert Chin told Judge Kevin Blazs that prosecutors are attempting to stretch a state law beyond the intent of the Legislature in an effort to help Cross.

“And, in doing so, they have caused unnecessary anguish to my family and have belittled the murder committed by Mr. Cross,” said Chin, who is a former Holland & Knight attorney and currently works as a lawyer for FedEx.

Blazs is expected to rule on the issue Thursday, armed with information that included the emotional testimony from the Chin siblings.

They shared with the judge that, in reality, on that night almost 26 years ago, Cross took both of their parents: Their father who died as their mother watched and their mother who has never been the same since.

A night that changed everything

Chin was one of nine siblings in a family of farmers in Malaysia. Because of his work ethic, both physically and educationally, he was able to attend college in Taiwan. It was there he met his future wife.

Together, they came to the United States and ultimately ended up in Jacksonville. They didn’t speak English well and didn’t have many resources, said Albert Chin.

But they opened a restaurant, which is where Kew Chin spent the bulk of his time.

“He was there every morning before we woke,” Albert Chin, the oldest of the siblings, said. “He was there long after we went to bed at night.”

Albert Chin described the night his mother watched her husband die: “She tried to save his life as he bled all over himself, all over my mom, all over the pavement. She dragged his body into her car to go get help.”

The nightmare stayed with her forever.

Alice Chin, the baby of the family and her daddy’s little girl, was 4 when her father was killed. She said she never knew her mother the way others have described her. “I was told she was a beautiful, vibrant, warm and loving person,” Alice Chin said. “My mom was sad, scared, lonely and always stressed.”

She said she and her mother shared a room at their home. “For years, I would hear her crying for hours at night when she thought I was asleep.”

Arthur Chin remembers the Sunday morning when he learned his father was gone. He woke up to a houseful of people, he said. When he saw his mother, she was “shaking violently, crying hysterically and her eyes were bloodshot red.”

His mother took both of his hands and held them in hers. She leaned over to look her middle child in the eyes, and as her voice trembled, she told him his father had “passed away.”

“I had to digest in my brain what this adult statement meant that I was just told by my mom, coming to a realization that my father was dead and never coming back,” he said.

Assisting prosecutors

Two assistant state attorneys detailed for the judge the cooperation they received from Cross, who they said volunteered his assistance and did not ask for anything in return.

Dan Skinner, director of the major crimes unit for the state attorney’s office, said when he met Cross he was “extremely impressed with his demeanor. He was very frank. He was very straightforward. … I don’t recall him ever asking, ‘What can you do for me.’”

Skinner described Cross’ testimony during a Stand Your Ground hearing in a murder case “probably, if not the best, certainly one of the best testimonies that I have heard in very difficult situations for inmates. It was one of the best I had ever seen.”

Jeff Moody, the division chief of homicide for the state attorney’s office, said Cross testified in a Stand Your Ground hearing in another murder case. He said Cross “truly was critical.”

Moody also used information from Cross in another murder, where the person pleaded guilty on the day of jury selection.

He praised Cross for being “frank” and “sincere.”

Mantei detailed other cases where Cross helped prosecutors.

During the hearing, Cross told the judge he was 18 when he killed Chin. He’s now 44 with a 25-year-old daughter.

Cross said he has spent much of his time in prison trying to better himself, earning several educational certificates.

“I made myself of service at the institutions where I have been at, and I became a chaplain, a clerk, a teacher’s aide and a certified law clerk,” he said.

Cross said he was misguided and under the influence on the night of the murder. Mantei challenged those descriptions.

“I mean we can use words ‘misguided’ and things because they sound better in certain circumstances,” Mantei said, “but what that is is first-degree murder, isn’t it?”

Cross responded: “Yes, sir.”

Decision will have ‘profound impact’

Mantei said Tuesday that he doesn’t envy the “difficult decision (Blazs) has before him.”

He said because the office filed the motion that doesn’t mean it supports a reduced sentence for Cross. However, he added that it would be “difficult to imagine” that if Cross hasn’t done enough to gain consideration under the new law,  he’s not sure what else he could have done.

None of that matters, though, to the Chin family.

Albert Chin told Blazs that his decision would have a “profound impact not just on Mr. Cross’ life, but us the victims.”

He said when he learned of the motion, he wanted to protect his family. “For the first time I know what my dad would want me to do,” he said. “He would want me to fight. … If this plea is reduced, it is victimizing us all over again.”


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