A Crescentville teen, found guilty of a 2015 armed robbery that ended in the death of a deliveryman for the New China Restaurant in the neighborhood, was sentenced Monday to 17½ to 35 years in prison by a Philadelphia judge.
With the victim's widow and members of a city Chinese restaurant-owners group watching, Tyquail Duffy, 18, declined to speak before he was sentenced in the April 23, 2015, slaying of Rendong Zheng, 49.
Despite testimony by his admitted 14-year-old accomplice, Sahmir Walker, who said Duffy brought a gun to his apartment and then hatched the idea of robbing the deliveryman, a Common Pleas Court jury acquitted Duffy of murder in May.
The jury found Duffy guilty of robbery, carrying a gun on public streets, and conspiracy. As part of his deal with prosecutors, Walker was tried as a juvenile on a single count of robbery.
The jury also found him guilty of witness intimidation and terroristic threats for pointing his gun at the head of Walker's aunt Edna Myers, with whom Walker was staying, and threatening to kill both of them if they talked to police.
Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd told Duffy that "this was a particularly difficult case for me. On the one hand, you're leaving behind a grieving family, including a wife. On the other hand, you're 18 years old and acquitted of a homicide charge."
Still, Byrd said, the minimum sentence recommended for Duffy under state sentencing guidelines was 16 to 32 years. The judge ordered Duffy to reimburse $7,090 for Zheng's funeral expenses.
Speaking through tears in Mandarin with an interpreter, Zheng's widow, Xiuhong Wang, said the loss of her husband of seven years has "broken our family."
"My husband was a good person; he was a good son and a good father," Wang said. "He was the main source of income for the family."
She said Zheng had a 20-year-old son from a previous marriage and helped support his elderly mother, who lives in a rural area of Fujian province in China.
Since her husband's death, Wang said, she has left Pennsylvania to live with relatives and earns money caring for their children.
Defense attorney Trevan Borum argued that Duffy was then just 15 and had since matured. He presented testimony by two witnesses from the nonprofit Beyond the Bars, which operates a music program for juveniles being tried as adults and who are housed in the city's adult prison system.
The agency's executive director, Matthew Kerr, and volunteer Brian Thomas both used the term "overwhelmingly positive" to describe their contacts with Duffy. They said he was eager to learn, taught other inmates, and was a classroom leader.
Duffy's mother, Tanya, who was paroled after serving 2½ months in jail for contempt of court after she was caught taking a courtroom photo during her son's 2015 preliminary hearing, testified that her son was a quiet boy who was frequently bullied by students and teachers.
"He was a good kid," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey, however, cited Duffy's school record of classroom disruption, weeks of unexcused absences, and 10 suspensions from 2009 to 2013.
Lightsey asked the judge to sentence Duffy to 30 years to life, citing the impact on Zheng's family and on Philadelphia's Chinese community.
Zheng's slaying and Duffy's trial and sentencing were covered by
Chinese-language news media around the United States.
Zheng and his wife emigrated to the United States from Fujian to "find their dream," said Steven Zhu, president of the 300-member Greater Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association. "Their dream has been crushed."
Zhu, 60, who emigrated 32 years ago from Fujian, said that in the last year, eight city Chinese takeout restaurants have been hit by armed robberies. He said they are vulnerable because many staff do not speak English and don't understand how the police and courts can help them.
Zhu said the association has been working with Chinese-owned restaurants to educate proprietors about the police and courts, and how to protect themselves from robberies.
"This case has sent a message that many people now know about," Zhu added.