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The Model Minority Awakened
The Murder of Vincent Chin - Part 3

Written by Christine Ho

LASTLY, THE ACJ LOOKED TO THE COURTS as a means to justice for Vincent Chin. Due to Judge Kauffman's unwillingness to change his lenient sentences, the ACJ had to go through another means of redress. They, therefore, focused their attention on the federal courts and got the Justice Department involved. The ACJ in conjunction with the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) worked to get federal charges filed against Ebens and Nitz.

Article  References   
Additional Information

Unnamed article. (July 5, 1983). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Chang, Robert S. Disoriented. New York University Press: New York, 1999, p. 22.

Ibid., p. 24.

Reindl, James. (May 10, 1983). "500 Join Rally to Protest Asian American Killing." Associated Press. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

"Chronology of Vincent Chin case." (Sept. 18, 1984) Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

"Chin Judge Says Indictments Came Through Political Pressure." (Nov. 4, 1983). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis


"Chin Judge Says Indictments Came Through Political Pressure." (Nov. 4, 1983). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

The federal charges were based on the grounds of Ebens and Nitz violating Chin's civil rights. The ACJ and the OCA appealed to the U. S. Justice Department to investigate the case. In July 1983, the ACJ, the OCA, along with Lily Chin talked with William Bradford Reynolds, the head of the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department. The ACJ also submitted a report to the Civil Rights Division outlining the factual and legal bases for the prosecution of Ebens and Nitz on civil rights grounds. Also due to the ACJ's appeal to elected officials, many Californian congressmen contributed to the pressure put on the Justice Department. As a result, the Justice Department asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to examine the Chin case. In particular, the FBI questioned the Highland Park police to determine if Ebens and Nitz were racially motivated to slay Chin. The ACJ and the OCA were successful in utilizing all of the media attention the case had received and the legislative support to persuade the Justice Department to investigate the case for civil rights violations.

AFTER THE EXTENSIVE FBI INVESTIGATION, U. S. Attorney Leonard Gilman announced that the Justice Department would convene the grand jury to present the case of civil rights violations on the part of Ebens and Nitz. On November 2, the federal grand jury indicted Ebens and Nitz on charges of conspiring to violate Chin's civil rights and criminally violating Chin's civil rights. Ebens and Nitz faced lifetime imprisonment as the maximum penalty. The ACJ and the OCA had effectively lobbied the Justice Department to press charges against Ebens and Nitz. In using the media, the support of the other branches, and the outcry of the public, the ACJ was able to attempt to start the process of redress on this case through the law.

TWO DAYS LATER, JUDGE KAUFFMAN WAS QUOTED, "The Asian community owes me some gratitude for bringing their community together under one cause." Despite his bitterness, Judge Kauffman was correct in his assessment that the protest of his lenient sentences in its unfairness did unite the Asian community. Even though the Justice Department claimed that politics had nothing to do with the indictments, the protests by the Asian community seemed to have clearly compelled the Justice Department to look into the matter. President of the ACJ, Helen Zia commented, "Clearly politics had something to do with this [the indictments]. If we hadn't gone on a nationwide campaign, this case wouldn't have gone anywhere." Zia was also recognizing the invested role the ACJ and the Asian community played in getting the Chin case pursued through the law. Even Judge Kauffman admitted that "there was political pressure brought to bear" on the Justice Department. But the goal of justice was still not reached at this point as Lisa Chan pointed out, "I think this is the first step in obtaining justice. This is the first battle we've won, but the war is still going on and we have a lot of work to do."

ON JUNE 13, 1984, THE TRIAL, U. S. V. EBENS, began before U. S. District Judge Anna Diggs-Taylor. The press coverage during the trial was also very slanted against Ebens and Nitz. One article entitled "Witness Remembers Defendant Wielding Bat in Beating Death" quoted Morris Cotton as saying, "Ebens was holding the bat as if he was trying to hit a home run." The U. S. Prosecutor closed with, "This was a lynching, but with a bat instead of a rope." This quote was all over the papers. The media was yet again educating the public on the hate crimes committed against Asian Americans. On June 28, after thirteen hours of deliberation, the jury found Ebens guilty of aiding and abetting in violating the civil rights of Chin but acquitted him of conspiring to violate Chin's rights. The jury acquitted Nitz of both of the charges. Yet again, Lily Chin, Chin's mother, got into the papers saying that the verdict was unfair because Nitz was acquitted. "One is not fair. Two killed my son. It's not fair that only one is guilty." On September 18, Judge Diggs-Taylor sentenced Ebens to 25 years in prison. At this point, the ACJ seemed to have been successful in its fight for "Justice for Vincent Chin" by using the law.

U. S. v. Ebens was appealed to the Sixth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. On September 11, 1986, a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Judge Diggs-Taylor erred "by not letting the defense present evidence tapes of interviews lawyer Lisa Chan conducted with three prosecution witnesses."

Article  References   
Additional Information

"Grand Jury to Convene in Chinese-American Slaying." (Aug. 5, 1983). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Raby, John. (June 15, 1984). "Witness Remembers Defendant Wielding Bat in Beating Death." Associated Press. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Irwin, Jim. (June 26, 1984). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Irwin, Jim. (June 29, 1984). "One Convicted, One Acquitted in Civil Rights Trial." Associated Press. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

"Chronology of Vincent Chin case." (Sept. 18, 1984) Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Campbell, James R. (Sept. 19, 1986). Wire Service. Retrieved Nov. 12, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

"Appeals Court Orders New Trial in Chinese-American's Beating Death." (Sept. 12, 1986). Domestic News. Retrieved Nov. 11, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

Ebens v. United States, 800F.2d 1422 (1986), p. 13.

Ibid., p. 13.

Standish, Joseph. (Sept. 19, 1986). "Justice Department to Retry Ebens in Chin's Death." Associated Press. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2000, from Lexis-Nexis

The panel reversed U. S. v. Ebens and remanded for a new trial. The defense claimed that Chan had improperly coached the witnesses. Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the tapes:

    Lisa Chan: The purpose of this meeting tonight it so we can help each other remember exactly what happened, how it happened, when it happened, and all the minor details. We were just going over - I was talking with Eddie Hollis this afternoon, the parking lot attendant, the black guy, I don't know when he came in. I think - but according to his version of the facts, it's quite different from what I have so far understood them to be. So, I would center on my facts on what you, three of you, say they are and somehow try to either fit all the other facts around these, or it they don't fit, then I have to watch out, you know, there's something else, somebody saying something else.

THE THREE-JUDGE PANEL FOUND this excerpt especially telling of how Chan improperly coached the three witnesses. According to the Court of Appeals, the testimony of a black man, who claimed Ebens cursed him racial slurs, also should have been permitted. Thus, partially due to the ACJ's spokesperson, Chan, the case was reversed and remanded for a new trial.

AT A NEWS CONFERENCE ON SEPTEMBER 19, Lily Chin pleaded emotionally, "Please I want everybody to tell the government not to drop the case. I want justice for Vincent. I want justice for my son." The conference ended with Chin carried away in a chair while sobbing uncontrollably. Yet again, due to the press coverage and politics, the Justice Department announced it would pursue a new case with the same charges against Ebens and Nitz. Ebens' lawyer, Frank Eaman, said he was not surprised at the decision to retry the case, calling it "a political decision made because of political pressure." Eaman was recognizing the role the ACJ played in the continuation of the case. Four and a half years after the death of Vincent Chin, the Asian community had mobilized to a point where they could use the law as an avenue to justice.

Click HERE to go to Part 4
HERE for Part 5, HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2

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