South Hill woman accused of strangling her mom to argue self-defense

A South Hill woman charged with strangling her mother intends to argue she did so because she feared the victim planned to kill her and her husband, court records show.

Xing M. Zhu put forth the “defense of self or others” argument in pleadings filed in Pierce County Superior Court late last month.

Attorney Jonnie R. Hynson of Port Townsend also wrote that Zhu would argue her actions were justified even if she was mistaken about the threat.

Zhu could not be convicted of second-degree murder as charged if evidence shows she actually believed the mistaken facts to be true, Hynson wrote.

“Obviously, it’s something we’ll be arguing against,” deputy prosecutor Brian Wasankari said Wednesday. He declined to divulge his strategy prior to trial.

Zhu, 35, is accused of beating 59-year-old Yu Li with a bar stool then strangling her inside Zhu’s South Hill home Aug. 28. She’s pleaded not guilty and is jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.

Zhu allegedly told deputies investigating the crime, “I had to kill my mom.”

She and her husband, Carland Lau, filed a number of reports with local law enforcement agencies prior to Li’s slaying in which they alleged Zhu’s parents intended to kill them.

Detectives investigated the claims twice, but no charges were ever filed, Wasankari wrote in court documents.

At one point, Lau told law enforcement he faked his own death to throw off his in-laws, court records show.

Pierce County detective Brian Stepp wrote in a report filed in conjunction with Li’s death Lau and Zhu “have appeared paranoid that someone is out to kill Lau and collect the money.”

A relative of Li’s told The News Tribune last month the victim bore no ill will toward her daughter or Lau and had traveled from California to help Zhu deal with what she thought was the loss of her husband.

A relative of Lau’s told the newspaper there was a long-running dispute over money between Zhu and her husband and Zhu’s parents.

Zhu also has asked a judge to lift the no-contact order that prohibits her from seeing or communicating with her husband while her case is pending.

The order violates the sanctity of marriage and deprives Zhu, at a time of severe emotional upheaval, the “inability to communicate with the only adult companion she has,” Hynson wrote.

Wasankari countered in his own pleading that the order is necessary, among other things, to protect the public in general and Zhu’s father in particular.

Both Zhu and Lau repeatedly reported that Zhu’s father and mother were out to get them, and Li wound up dead, Wasankari pointed out.

“Because there is a present threat to Mr. Zhu, a condition preventing the defendant from contacting Mr. Lau is necessary to minimize the threat ...” the deputy prosecutor wrote.