“When You Go To Trial, Will You Say No One Is Dead?”

With PermissionThree months after the state’s highest court heard arguments on how to fund expert witnesses for indigent defendants who represent themselves in criminal cases, the defendant who brought that case, Dr. Lishan Wang was back in New Haven Superior Court this week arguing with the judge about who the victim in this murder case really is. 

A 45-minute court hearing before Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Clifford featured a feisty motion in which Dr. Wang called Judge Clifford’s conduct “shameful.” His reason: On occasion Judge Clifford has referred to Dr.Vanjinder Toor, the man Dr. Wang is accused of gunning down, as a victim.

Dr. Wang, who recently turned 48, is charged with the murder of Dr. Toor (pictured above), a former colleague, outside his Branford condo on April 26, 2010.  At the time he was shot to death. Dr. Toor was 34, a father and a post-doctoral fellow at Yale. His then-pregnant wife witnessed the shooting. She was shot at too, but Dr. Wang missed.

The murder case has been stalled because after Dr. Wang rejected the public defender’s office as his attorney, neither the public defender’s office nor the judiciary has been willing to advance funds for Dr. Wang’s experts. As a result no trial date has yet been scheduled.

One of the experts Dr. Wang says he wants to hire is Dr. Henry C. Lee, the founder of the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at the University of New Haven. Judge Clifford noted Tuesday that just because Dr. Wang wants him as his expert doesn’t mean he will get him.

“If the Supreme Court finds you are entitled to money for experts that doesn’t mean you’ll get whatever experts you want,” the judge noted. Judge Clifford said there are monetary limits. “You can’t just pick and choose some of the most renowned people across the country.”  He said experts in any number of areas might be called, for example, those in the forensic, ballistic or psychiatric areas, but they will likely be experts who are “reasonable and necessary.”

But nothing happens, the judge said, until the high court acts.

Nothing that is unless Dr. Wang’s underlying beliefs, hinted at, but not addressed finally bubble up during a court session. That is what happened in court Tuesday.

The “Victim”

Throughout the case Dr. Wang has always presented himself as a victim.

He has blamed Dr. Toor and other doctors for the loss of his job and his profession after he was fired from Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 2008. So if someone in court, say the judge, refers to the murder victim as a victim, Dr. Wang gets angry.

And he files motions, many motions in past years, most directed toward sparking a mini-trial on the Kingsbrook firing. His most recent motion, which came to light Tuesday during Dr. Wang’s pre-trial hearing, is called a motion for equal protection of the law, which, as the judge pointed out is what Dr. Wang is entitled to as a matter of law.

What Dr. Wang wanted, the judge said, was “to level the playing field,” specifically, to change the language of the case.  He objected that the judge referred on occasion to Dr. Toor as a victim. 

In his motion, Dr. Wang called Judge Clifford’s conduct “shameful.”

The judge, smiling, said he does not take that statement personally.

Dr. Wang replied, “Your honor, you are my savior.” Then Dr. Wang told the judge to be a neutral savior. And calling Dr. Toor a victim, according to Dr. Wang, was not neutral. Typically at trial, the word “victim” is not used. But this case is not yet at trial, even though it is nearly four years old.

“We do our best at trial not to use the word victim,” Clifford said. “Practically speaking there is a ‘deceased.’”

The state of Connecticut has filed murder charges against Dr. Wang and attempted murder charges for trying to kill Dr. Toor’s wife, along with gun charges.

“This is a murder case,” the judge reminded Dr. Wang. “Somebody died here. There is a victim of something.” 

“I disagree,” Dr. Wang said.

“When you go to trial will you say no one is dead?” the judge asked Dr. Wang. 

Dr.Wang replied: “That could be disagreed.” 

The judge explained that sometimes the word comes out. “I apologize if I offended you. But this is a murder case. There is somebody the state will try to prove is dead.”

From the beginning, Dr. Wang has spent more time examining and explaining the Kingsbrook case (he filed a civil suit against the hospital) than he has the Branford murder case.  Many of his motions center on getting evidence and witnesses from the Brooklyn hospital.

Judge Clifford noted at the December hearing that every argument Dr. Wang makes to show that he was unjustly fired from Kingsbrook may be used by Eugene R. Calistro, Jr., senior assistant state’s attorney, “as a motive for you to be upset and more likely to commit this crime. You may be helping the state develop a motive.”

Dr. Wang said he wants to show that Kingsbrook officials made “untruthful statements. They accused me of something I didn’t do.”

The judge reminded Wang that he, “not Kingsbrook,” will be on trial.

Waiting On The Supremes

At the outset of Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Clifford said he had hoped “we would have our decision from the Supreme Court.”

The state’s highest court took the case on an expedited basis, calling for motions in an expedited fashion and hearing arguments on the issues of payment for experts on Oct. 31.  Dr. Wang permitted an outside attorney to represent him in the Supreme Court case.  “I had hoped by today we would have something so that we could move the case into the next phase,” the judge said. “But that has not happened.”

The Supreme Court decision could turn out to be a precedent-setting decision affecting the rights of all pro se indigent defendants in Connecticut.

The judge told Dr. Wang that he will not be the trial judge but he does plan to have the trial judge attend court sessions soon so that he can familiarize himself with the case—-once the high court hands down its decision.

The next court date is set for Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. Judge Clifford told Dr. Wang he hopes to have a decision by then.  “I am frustrated.  I want to move the case along. I want to get this to a trial judge,” he said.


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