A lot of bad things had happened, Yanqun Tan thought that night through the tears and dark memories brought on by her husband’s latest burst of violence, she testified Monday. Rufi Fang slept beside her in their Lemon Hill rental as she lay awake, the beatings, the threats and abuse burning in her head.
He had become increasingly violent, the abuse more sadistic, Tan testified in her murder trial in Fang’s beating death in Sacramento Superior Court. Tan returned to the witness stand Monday to tell a judge and jury how she killed Fang in self-defense in tense, gripping testimony that left Tan wracked with sobs.
Hours before Tan killed Fang on Oct. 20, 2012 – beating him to death with one of the hydroponic tools of their south county pot-growing enterprise – he hit her again, twice, she said. Fang had told Tan to ask her brother, due to arrive the next morning from China, for $30,000 to arrange citizenship and buy into the indoor marijuana-cultivating operation the 55-year-old Fang sprouted in south Sacramento and Elk Grove.
Tan refused and Fang slapped her, she testified. Tan said he then threatened to leave her for the wife he left behind in China and saddle Tan with their drug debt.
The pair had left their families behind in China in 2005 for a new life together in America, Tan testified. They lived first in Las Vegas on a tourist visa, mainly off cash from her fashion business, then in San Francisco, where a friend convinced them to move to Sacramento and grow marijuana.
Prosecutors say the prospect of Fang leaving her to reunite with his wife drove Tan to murder. They questioned her repeatedly Monday about whether Fang had threatened to bring his wife from China and leave her.
But Tan testified that self-defense was her only motivation, that the fight that led to Fang’s death left her in a “state of chaos.”
Later on Monday, family therapist and trauma expert Linda Barnard testified how she had assessed Tan in 2014 for domestic violence and trauma, finding a woman with a “great level of fear” of Fang.
“Her primary coping mechanism was hope and denial. She hoped the man she loved would come back,” Barnard said. “She held up that hope every day. She believed that she had nowhere to go for escape.”
“I thought about a lot of things that were bad in the past,” Tan said through an interpreter crowded beside her on the witness stand Monday morning. “Now with these last two years, a lot of bad things had happened. Rufi was asleep next to me, but I did not fall asleep. I felt more and more upset the more I thought about what happened.”
Tan’s crying awakened Fang and his anger returned. Tan testified that Fang repeatedly punched her in the head as he tried to force her to perform a sex act.
“I’m trying to be polite,” Tan said Fang told her before the threat that triggered their fatal exchange. “I’ll have to hang you up,” he said, Fang’s term for stringing Tan with chains from their garage’s wooden rafters before beating her.
Tan remembered the last time, she said. Twice, in 2011, after she sent anonymous letters to immigration officials. Tan had been stoic on the stand, but her voice rose, tears welling as she recalled the overnight hours before her husband’s death.
“I was really scared because it was easy to hang me up. I was really scared and really angry, so I fought with him,” Tan said, her interpreter struggling to be heard over her rising voice. “He weighed me down, so I just kicked, kicked, kicked. Then, like an arrow, I shot away from him and ran out the door.”
Earlier that day, the couple and family members had spent time cleaning and clearing the home on Emerald Creek Court, chatting and laughing as they worked, she said. Every room was to be an indoor pot garden, another home in Fang’s spreading network of grow sites.
Tan was in one of those rooms now, with a small stack of hydroponic ballasts – equipment growers use to regulate wattage to their lighting systems.
She grabbed one of the ballasts and threw it at him, she testified. She was surprised she had the strength to pick it up, didn’t know it could kill someone, she said.
Fang was surprised, too. The ballast struck him in the forehead.
“He didn’t expect me to muster up the courage to throw it at him,” Tan said. “I just didn’t want him to hang me up anymore.”
What had been a fight now escalated to a life-and-death struggle, Tan said, with Fang repeating, “I’m going to beat you to death,” over and over. The struggle moved into the bedroom and atop their bed. Fang was “really mad, he was ferocious.” They fought for the ballast again, Tan frightened and in a rage, when she regained control of the tool.
“I was in a state of anger. I had lost my senses. I had gone insane. I threw, I threw, I threw, I threw. I don’t know how many times I threw the ballast,” she said rapidly, mimicking the throwing motion from the witness stand. “If I had known it was going to kill him, I would’ve stopped. I don’t know how long I had thrown it at him. I don’t know when I stopped.”
Tan’s tears came in waves from the stand, turning to wracking sobs she struggled to control.
The bedroom grew quiet, Tan said. Fang was dead. She wrapped him in plastic bags, cleaned the blood as best she could, apologized to the man she killed, then went to the garage to try to end her own life by drinking insecticide, she said.
Failing that, she climbed into her van and drove, a would-be escape that turned into an aimless drive over Sacramento freeways ending back where she started, at the south Sacramento home where her husband’s body lay, she said.
“I wanted to stop him,” Tan said Monday afternoon. “I didn’t want to kill him.”
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.