A judge sentenced Troy Arrington to life in prison without parole after jurors found him guilty of the first-degree murder of UNC professor Feng Liu.
Arrington, 30, of Chapel Hill, was found to have fatally beaten Liu on the head with a rock on July 23, 2014 during a robbery. Liu died the next day.
Arrington was also found guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon, for which he was sentenced to an additional 10 years and 8 months to 13 years and 10 months in prison.
Arrington was one of two men charged in Liu’s slaying. Derick Davis II, 26, of Durham, awaits trial on the same charges.
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The jury began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, adjourned about 5:30 p.m. and came to its verdict late Thursday morning.
Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall argued for Arrington’s receiving an additional sentence on the robbery charge, saying that laws can change.
“I think it is important that he be punished separately for the armed robbery,” he said. “I think this is such a brutal and senseless case, that this helps, in some degree, to ensure future safety in our community.”
Arrington killed Liu while out of jail on pretrial release.
“Based on his record, it is clear, that the defendant has no respect for the law,” Woodall said.
Woodall read letters aloud to the court to show the emotional strain Liu’s death had inflicted. Two letters were written by Liu’s son-in-law, Will Norflett.
The first was written within three weeks of Liu’s death on behalf of Liu’s entire family, including his wife and daughter, Woodall said.
“It is impossible to express how the death of my beloved father-in-law Feng Liu has affected our family,” it stated.
Norflett’s letter described Liu as a joyful spirit, an optimistic man full of hope for the futures of his daughter and his, then, yet unborn granddaughter. Two weeks before he died, Liu had visited his pregnant daughter and her husband, Norflett, at their home Asheville. They went shopping for cribs.
“The expected baby is all Feng could talk about the entire visit. He was killed just three short months before his daughter’s due date,” Woodall read. “Feng Liu will never have the chance to meet his long awaited granddaughter in this world.”
Norflett saw Liu lying in critical condition at UNC Hospitals shortly before he was taken off life support and wrote that until that moment, he hadn’t known a human head could swell so much. Liu’s face had enlarged so that his eyes were no longer visible.
In his second letter, written Wednesday night, Norflett wrote that Liu grew up poor in northeastern China, immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen because he wanted his daughter to grow up in a country where women have opportunity. He loved dogs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Norflett added.
Public defender Dana Graves asked Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour for leniency for her client based on his troubled background.
“We, and by ‘we’ I mean Troy, have never contended that what happened to professor Liu was not horrible and tragic,” Graves said.
Arrington witnessed his own father’s murder at a young age, experienced domestic abuse, watched his mother’s boyfriend hurt her, and was removed from his mother’s care by Child Protective Services, Graves said. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder stemming from his experiences with his mother’s abusive boyfriend and a depression disorder.
Arrington bounced from foster home to foster home, Graves told the judge.
Arrington was interviewed by police investigators after the robbery and assault but before Liu died, Graves said, “At one point Troy told (an) investigator ... that if (Liu) died, he might have to be placed in a mental institution, so he was that deeply upset.”
Graves asked the judge to give Arrington a concurrent sentence on the armed-robbery conviction. But Baddour issued Arrington the maximum sentence for robbery with a dangerous weapon, to begin after his life without parole sentence for first-degree murder.
When Baddour asked Arrington if there was anything he would like to say to court, at a near inaudible volume, the young man said, “Nah, I’m good.”
Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636