Yanqun Tan admittedly killed her boyfriend, a detective testified, by bashing him over the head with a hydroponic ballast they used in an indoor pot-growing operation spread across three houses in Sacramento and Elk Grove.
Whether the homicide amounts to murder is the question a jury likely will decide now that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Joseph Orr bound the case over for trial after a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
Tan's lawyer says it was voluntary manslaughter, not murder, because his 53-year-old client "snapped" when her boyfriend, Rufi Fang, demanded sex that she didn't want to give.
She had been putting up with so much of his physical, sexual and psychological abuse, attorney Pete Harned said, that she snatched up the electrical apparatus that regulates electric flow to the lights in indoor marijuana growing operations. Then she let him have it as many as 10 times, over the head.
"A decade of abuse by this man against her, and she'd had enough. The abuse was serious in nature," Harned said, in an interview after the hearing. "It is a defense. This woman has been through a lot at the hands of this man."
While Harned views the case as a manslaughter, Judge Orr found there was probable cause for a murder prosecution. He set an Aug. 21 trial date for the 5-foot-3, 117-pound defendant who came to court Wednesday with her black hair tinted brownish red and tied into two pigtails.
Deputy District Attorney Hilary Bagley Franzoia declined to comment.
Tan turned herself in to authorities last Oct. 22, two days after the blunt-force trauma, suffocation killing of Fang, 55, even before anybody had reported it.
When Sacramento police investigators arrived at the couple's residence on the Emerald Creek Court cul-de-sac in the Lemon Hill neighborhood, they found Fang's body on a bed, wrapped in blankets, black plastic and duct tape, Detective Ryan Cleveringa testified.
The woman was accompanied by her son-in-law, Peter Guan, and another relative when she reported the killing at a sheriff's substation, Deputy Nathan Burnett said.
Burnett testified that through Guan's Cantonese interpreter, Yanqun Tan told him she killed Fang sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. two days earlier when he made an unwanted advance on her while they were in bed.
"She stated that he wanted to have sex with her, she did not want to have it, and he kept trying to touch her in a sexual fashion," which caused her to hit him in the head with something, Burnett said. "She was very calm and did not (show) any emotion."
"She mentioned she hit him in the head with a hydroponic ballast," Sacramento Police Detective Bryce Heinlein said.
When police investigators went to the Emerald Creek Court house to find the body, they also came across about 25 marijuana plants growing in two bedrooms. The arrangement included grow lights and filters and duct vents commonly used in indoor pot cultivation, as well as 10 ballasts, the fairly hefty boxlike devices that control the wattage to the lights.
Police turned up medical marijuana certificates in the names of Yanqun Tan and Rufi Fang. As a result, the officers did not seize the plants, Cleveringa said, because their numbers conformed with California pot law.
Two other grow areas that Fang and Tan oversaw, in Elk Grove and in unincorporated south Sacramento, did not conform to the law, according to a drug cop's testimony.
Elk Grove Police Detective Roy Keller said that two months before the discovery of Fang's body, Fang and the defendant were arrested when a house they rented on Lake Willow Way caught fire and authorities found 263 marijuana plants inside. Elk Grove police turned up information there that led them to a south area house in the 6800 block of Sunnyslope Drive, where they came across another 53 plants.
Between Lake Willow Way and the Fang and Tan bank accounts, authorities seized $35,000 in cash, Keller testified. No charges were ever filed in the case, according to Sacramento Superior Court online records.
The money seizure added to the tension in what already had been a volatile relationship between the two, according to police accounts of the statements Yanqun Tan's relatives gave investigators. They told detectives the couple often threatened each other, sometimes with knives, and occasionally with sticks.
Her son-in-law, Peter Guan, "said they threatened to kill each other if they left each other," Heinlein testified. Then, with the cash seizures, "She had mentioned to him that she had lost some money in the past and there was a prior court case they were dealing with," Heinlein said of the Elk Grove case.
Detectives testified that family members told them Yanqun Tan had gotten some other troubling news. Peter Guan said his mother-in-law knew Fang had a wife and child back in China but that he told Tan he would be meeting up with the wife in Las Vegas "and he was going to be with her," Heinlein testified.
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.