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Man Suspected of Chinatown Murder Should be Released on Bail, Lawyer Says

By Irene Plagianos | July 20, 2012 3:52pm | Updated on July 20, 2012 6:44pm

MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — The lawyer for a man suspected of the execution-style murder of two Chinatown women last month said prosecutors are acting "completely inappropriately" by holding her client without bail in connection to a murder he hasn't been charged with.

"He has not been charged with homicide and that is the basic problem with this case," Rebecca Kavanaugh, the lawyer for Song Fei Li, said after a court appearance Friday. Homicide is "just speculative" and "completely unrelated to this case," she added.

Li is being eyed in the June murders of Xiao Ling Li, 70, and Yong Hua Chen, 36, prosecutors said. Both women were shot in the head before their bodies were discovered in a ground-level apartment that was set ablaze in an apparent coverup June 28, officials said.

Authorities arrested Li, who sources said is a driver for a car service in Chinatown, after pulling him off a Hong Kong-bound plane at JFK Sunday moments before takeoff.

But he was arraigned in Criminal Court Monday on a host of unrelated charges — including criminal contempt and intimidating a witness — after allegedly slashing the tires of a fellow driver in Brooklyn in February and threatening to kill him if he testified against him, according to court documents.

Prosecutors told the judge at Li's arraignment Monday that he was a murder suspect, but almost a week later, they have yet to bring murder charges against him

Investigators are working to come up with enough evidence to prove his connection to the crime, sources said.

Police sources believe Li was hired to recover $200,000 in stolen cash from Yong Hua Chen, who purportedly took it from an underground Chinatown loan system called the "Hui." She was allegedly planning on fleeing the country the day she was killed.

Sources said investigators suspect Li may have retrieved the money, and then killed Chen, and Xiao Ling Li, her babysitter, and set fire to the building to cover up the murder.

But Manhattan prosecutors have yet to charge Li with the murder, locking him up instead on unrelated charges of witness harassment stemming from the tire-slashing case in Brooklyn. He was released on his own recognizance on the initial Brooklyn case just a few days before his Manhattan arrest.

Kavanaugh called it "incredible" that prosecutors convinced a judge to hold her client without bail and without bringing additional murder charges. She added that she plans to file motions asking for him to be released.

"We intend to vigorously fight these charges," she added.

The Henry Street building where the shooting occurred has a reputation for illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution, according to community leaders and police sources.

Li is due back in court Aug. 8.