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South Sioux City man acquitted of murder by reason of insanity
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South Sioux City man acquitted of murder by reason of insanity

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DAKOTA CITY -- During two separate mental health exams, Bei Sheng Chen told psychiatrists that when he pulled the trigger of his gun and shot his wife, he believed he was killing the devil.

To both doctors, he described seeing a devil with long teeth and long horns, and he was afraid she was going to devour him.

"It was his belief at the time that he was shooting the devil, and that was a good thing," Chen's attorney, Todd Lancaster, said Wednesday morning while summarizing the doctors' findings in Chen's murder trial in Dakota County District Court.

The psychiatrists, one who examined Chen for Lancaster, and the other who examined him on behalf of the state, both concluded that when Chen shot Mei Huang on Sept. 6 next to the Law Enforcement Center in South Sioux City, Chen did not know right from wrong or realize the consequences of his actions.

"Both concluded the defendant was insane at the time the event occurred," Dakota County Attorney Kim Watson said.

Citing reports from those exams, District Judge Paul Vaughan found Chen, 41, of South Sioux City, not responsible by reason of insanity and acquitted him of first-degree murder, first-degree domestic assault and use of a firearm to commit a felony. Vaughan said evidence showed that Chen committed the crimes.

After his ruling, Vaughan ordered Chen transported to the Lincoln Regional Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, to be evaluated by the state's psychiatrist, who will develop a treatment plan for Chen, who has been diagnosed with psychosis, delusional disorders and depressive disorders.

"The court finds clear and convincing evidence that the defendant poses a danger to society," Vaughan said.

Chen will remain in custody at the Regional Center until psychiatrists believe his condition has improved and he is no longer a danger, said Lancaster, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy in Lincoln.

The state has 90 days to evaluate Chen and file a treatment plan. Vaughan scheduled a review hearing for Aug. 2. If Vaughan approves the treatment plan, Chen will be treated for his conditions, and the court would review his mental health status annually. Had Chen been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

In a trial that lasted barely more than an hour, Watson and Lancaster submitted 13 exhibits, including autopsy photos and reports, psychiatrists' reports, crime scene photos, video from outside the Law Enforcement Center, Chen's medical records and other reports. Chen waived his right to a jury trial last month, and Vaughan was provided with all the exhibits prior to trial so he could review them beforehand and issue a ruling Wednesday.

Watson said the evidence clearly showed that Chen shot and killed his wife. She also provided some detail into Chen's history of mental illness, which included delusions that his wife was having affairs with her father and other family members.

Those delusions were so strong, Lancaster later said, that Chen had their children genetically tested to determine that they were his. Chen also told doctors that he believed Huang wanted to poison him. Chen at one point consulted with mental health professionals in Sioux City for what a friend had said was a mental breakdown.

Watson said Huang, who had moved to South Sioux City to operate the Panda Palace Chinese restaurant, had told a friend that she wanted to leave Chen, but that he would come after her.

On the morning of the shooting, Chen was having delusions that his wife was the devil and was going to harm him, a delusion he had had once before, Lancaster said. When he shot Huang, he did not know he had shot his wife, Lancaster said. Instead, Chen was pleased he had killed who he thought was the devil.

"We are not disputing he is the person who shot his wife," Lancaster said. "The issue here is his state of mind at the time the event happened. I think it is clear to the court that at the time of the event, the defendant was insane."

Chen had followed Huang to the Law Enforcement Center at 701 W. 29th St. in South Sioux City. Police officers inside the building heard two gunshots and raced outside, where they found Huang lying on the ground with gunshot wounds. Chen was found near her and was taken into custody. A firearm was found at the scene.

Lancaster in February notified Watson and the court that he would use an insanity defense after receiving the results of Chen's first psychiatric evaluation.

In response to Lancaster's motion, Watson had Chen examined a second time by a state psychiatrist.

Both doctors concluded that Chen was insane when he shot and killed his wife. The state psychiatrist's report showed that Chen had been suffering from mental illness for some time, Vaughan said when announcing his ruling.

"In his opinion, the defendant appeared to be psychiatrically impaired over a period of the last two years," Vaughan said.

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