Car­ry­out owner on trial for shoot­ing cus­tomer

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Justin Fen­ton jfen­ton@balt­sun.com

Avrian Mer­chant had just got­ten off work at a body shop when he stopped into a tiny Chi­nese food car­ry­out in West Bal­ti­more for some iced tea and cigar­il­los.

The trans­ac­tion went off with­out a hitch and he left, when sud­denly the 29-year-old heard three bangs and felt a pain in his leg. He had been shot.

“When I looked back, the only per­son I saw was the store owner,” Mer­chant tes­ti­fied.

The owner, 63-yearold Fu Tan, is charged with at­tempted first-de­gree mur­der, with pros­e­cu­tors say­ing at the open­ing of his trial Tues­day af­ter­noon that he in­ten­tion­ally tried to kill Fu Tan Mer­chant.

But Tan’s de­fense at­tor­ney told ju­rors that Tan had no rea­son to want to hurt Mer­chant. In­stead, Tan had in­tended to fire shots, with a gun he legally owned, into the ground to scare off teens who had be­come un­ruly in his store.

“There was no in­tent to cause any in­jury to Mr. Mer­chant. [He] had noth­ing to do with this, and it was a mis­take,” said Martin Co­hen, Tan’s pub­lic de­fender. “Was it crim­i­nal?”

Tan has been held with­out bail since his ar­rest Feb. 15, the day the shoot­ing oc­curred out­side his store in the 1800 block of W. North Ave. He was es­corted into the court­room Tues­day shack­led by the hands and around his waist, and bowed to a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer and to a Chi­nese interpreter who is help­ing him fol­low the pro­ceed­ings.

He is charged with at­tempted first­de­gree mur­der, first-de­gree as­sault, sec­ond-de­gree as­sault, reck­less en­dan­ger­ment and firearm use in a felony or vi­o­lent crime.

“My the­ory is he was up­set or an­gry ... and went and fired off three shots on a pub­lic street, where peo­ple live, work, walk and drive,” As­sis­tant State’s At­tor­ney Linda Ramirez told ju­rors in open­ing state­ments. “I be­lieve he was aim­ing at Avrian Mer­chant. He went out and in­tended to shoot the per­son who had just been in his store. He tried to kill him.”

Mer­chant was the first wit­ness called to tes­tify, and said when he en­tered the car­ry­out two teens were al­ready in­side. Tan was smok­ing be­hind the store’s pro­tec­tive glass, a sta­ple of small busi­nesses in Bal­ti­more’s poorer neigh­bor­hoods.

“The girl was an­gry about her food. She told me not to or­der any food,” Mer­chant tes­ti­fied. “She had her food in her hand, and she was curs­ing at him. She was telling him she wanted her money back.”

Mer­chant said he paid her no mind and pur­chased his items with­out a prob­lem. He said he be­lieved the girl threw her food on the ground or into the wall, and she and a teenage boy ran out.

That’s when Mer­chant was shot. The bul­let re­mains lodged in his thigh, and he said his leg is func­tion­ing at “80 per­cent.”

Ramirez said po­lice were un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with Tan and ini­tially be­lieved he might have been a rob­bery vic­tim. They sum­moned a crime lab tech­ni­cian who spoke Man­darin and put him on the phone with Tan to ask what hap­pened.

The tech­ni­cian, Der­rick Hwang, said Tan told him, “It’s not im­por­tant,” and that he didn’t want to speak to him.

Hwang went to the store at the re­quest of de­tec­tives, where he said Tan told po­lice that there had been an ar­gu­ment or fight, and the in­di­vid­u­als in­volved left. Tan told po­lice he was in­side when he heard shots out­side, Hwang said.

Po­lice de­cided to test Tan’s hands for gun­shot residue. Only then, Hwang tes­ti­fied, did Tan tell him that he had fired the shots and showed po­lice the gun.

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Mid­ship­men Le­siie Ann Alasagas and Rafael Alpizar se­lect chil­dren’s names from a tree Tues­day in the Naval Academy’s Ban­croft Hall to help kick off the 26th an­nual Giv­ing Tree cam­paign. They’ll pro­vide hol­i­day presents for the chil­dren they se­lected.

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