Witness testifies he fired the shot that killed Durham Chinese restaurant owner

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Hykeem Deshun Cox didn’t have a formal job in April 2018, he said, but he would spend a lot of time stalking businesses.

Why were you stalking businesses, the prosecutor asked.

“Rob them,” Cox, 24, said.

“Did you rob a lot of businesses,” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Graham Green

“Yes, sir,” said Cox, of Durham, as he sat in the witness chair in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem testifying at Maurice Owen Wiley Jr.’s trial.

Cox, whom prosecutors have described as the “cooperator” in the case, and Wiley, 31, are linked in the April 15, 2018, attempted robbery and killing of Durham Chinese restaurant owner Hong Zheng. Zheng’s death, along with reports of the family’s multiple previous robberies and break-ins, shook the Triangle community and highlighted the risks that Asian business owners said they routinely face.

Zheng was shot and killed after Cox, Wiley and four others stalked Zheng and his wife Shirley Chan’s restaurant China Wok on South Roxboro Street and followed them home twice in the two days before they tried to rob them on a third night, according to prosecutors’ evidence during the first five days of testimony.

In opening statements, Wiley’s attorney said his client wasn’t involved in the attempted robbery.

Hong Zheng, 42, died April 15, 2018, in his Hope Valley Farms North driveway around 10:20 p.m. Zheng owned the China Wok restaurant on South Roxboro Road in Durham near the former Kroger and off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Hong Zheng, 42, died April 15, 2018, in his Hope Valley Farms North driveway around 10:20 p.m. Zheng owned the China Wok restaurant on South Roxboro Road in Durham near the former Kroger and off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Five days of evidence

Evidence presented by the prosecution shows Wiley rented two SUVs and drove a group to the restaurant and house on three occasions, including the night of the shooting.

Wiley and Cox shot into Zheng’s minivan, the prosecution’s evidence has indicated.

Other evidence has included:

Surveillance video outside the restaurant

The white Lincoln MKX that Wiley rented that was damaged in the shooting.

False police reports filed to address the damage to the Lincoln

In addition, one of the men was shot in the back during the attempted robbery.

The evidence was gathered and analyzed by Durham law enforcement, along with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

In the month after the killing, Durham police arrested and charged Wiley, Cox, Darryl Bradford, 21, Semaj Maleek Bradley and Charles Winfor Daniels with first-degree murder and other charges in Durham County.

Bradley and Daniels were 18 and 19, respectively, when they were charged. Cox, Bradford and Daniels were on probation at the time of the killing.

A juvenile whose name wasn’t released to the public was also involved, police have said.

In August 2019, Wiley and the four others were indicted in federal court, and Durham prosecutors said they planned to dismiss the local charges as the case moved to the U.S. Middle District Court of North Carolina.

Wiley’s and Cox’s latest federal charges include conspiring and attempting to commit the robbery by threat or force and conspiring to possess a firearm while committing a violent crime. Thy could face up to 20 years on each of those charges. Wiley is also accused of possessing ammunition as a felon, punishable by up to 10 years.

Federal officials initially charged the men with using a firearm in a crime of violence that resulted in a death, which carries a sentence of death or up to life in prison. That charge was changed after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled an attempted robbery doesn’t meet the legal standards for it.

Cox has pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiring and attempting to commit the robbery by threat or force in a plea deal in which the possessing ammunition while committing a violent crime charge was dismissed. The other defendants have also pleaded guilty to related charges in plea deals, but none, including Cox, have been sentenced.

On Friday Cox sat in the witness chair wearing white long underwear under orange prison scrubs. His hands and legs were handcuffed and shackled, and a U.S. marshal sat between him and the jury.

Wiley sat in the courtroom wearing a fleece vest over a button down shirt and tie. A blue hospital-like mask kept falling below his nose.

Cox testified that he lied to police multiple times, saying Wiley organized the robbery and was the one who shot Zheng.

But Cox admitted during questioning that Wiley wasn’t the main planner and it was Cox’s bullet that killed Zheng.

“My bullet is the one that killed the man, but I am not the only one (responsible),” he said.

Hong Zheng was fatally shot while in his driveway of his home in Hope Valley North neighborhood on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

Hong Zheng was fatally shot while in his driveway of his home in Hope Valley North neighborhood on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

The attempted robbery

Cox said he and the others targeted the China Wok owners because they were Asian and the group believed that they didn’t use banks.

“Because they have a lot of money in the house,” he said.

Wiley, Cox and others rode in cars rented by Wiley and watched the restaurant two nights before the killing. One of the nights, some got out the car near the family’s house to hide in the bushes and do the robbery then, but then decided to wait, Cox said.

Cox said the group of five men and the one juvenile met at Daniels’ house on Driver Street on the night of Zheng’s killing. Everyone was armed, Cox said, including Daniels whom Cox gave a gun.

They went by China Wok and parked for a minute before they drove and parked near Zheng’s house on Carlton Crossing Drive, he said.

They saw the headlights of the family’s silver minivan.

“Get on point,” Wiley told the people in the car, Cox said.

It was raining hard as Zheng’s wife Shirley Chan got out of the minivan with what they thought were bags of money, Cox said. Chan testified it was food she was bringing home from the restaurant.

“We all just jumped out,” Cox said.

Bradley and Bradford ran toward Chan, he said, and told her to “give it up.” Wiley and Cox ran to Zheng in the minivan, Cox said.

After multiple robberies and break-ins, the family had a nightly routine. Chan’s then 14-year-old son would hand her a gun and a magazine when they returned home at night, and their daughter, then 17, would look out from a second-story window.

After the son handed Chan the gun, she fell and it jammed as some of the robbers reached the front door and started shooting, Chan and her children testified.

When Chan started shooting, Cox said, most of the others started shooting.

They ran back to the white Lincoln MKX. Cox was shot in the wrist, and Bradford was shot in the back. Other testimony indicated a bullet grazed Bradley’s face.

Semaj Bradley, who is charged in the fatal April 15, 2018 fatal attempted robbery of Hong Zheng in Durham, was photographed on May 29, 2018. The photograph shows two healed scratches on his face that investigators contend he received after Zheng’s wife returned fire on them during the attempted robbery.

Semaj Bradley, who is charged in the fatal April 15, 2018 fatal attempted robbery of Hong Zheng in Durham, was photographed on May 29, 2018. The photograph shows two healed scratches on his face that investigators contend he received after Zheng’s wife returned fire on them during the attempted robbery.

Made up drive-by shooting

On the ride home, they came up with a plan to explain their wounds.

Daniels and Bradford would go back to Daniels’ house on Driver Street and shoot in the air, Cox said. Daniels would call 911 and say Bradford was shot so he could get medical attention.

Daniels’ mom drove Cox, who had a bullet in his wrist, to his grandfather’s house.

As Cox arrived at the house around the corner, he said, he heard the staged shooting.

“I rolled up a blunt and was looking at news,” he said. He didn’t see anything about the shooting at Zheng’s home on the 11 p.m. news, Cox said, so he rolled another blunt and watched the 11:30 p.m. news, which reported that Zheng had died.

Cox called the juvenile, he said.

“Don’t nobody need to know,” Cox sad he told him.

On May 9, 2018, a Durham County probation officer notified investigators that Hykeem Cox appeared to have a gunshot wound to his wrist.

On May 9, 2018, a Durham County probation officer notified investigators that Hykeem Cox appeared to have a gunshot wound to his wrist.

Bullet in the wrist

Cox started cooperating with police after his probation officer noticed the gunshot wound in his wrist about three weeks after the killing.

He was arrested about a week later after his arm was X-rayed.

In initial interviews, Cox told police varying stories that included him not having a gun and Wiley shooting Zheng, Cox admitted during his testimony.

Cox said he was testifying because he wanted the family to get justice, but Wiley’s attorney John Bryson questioned that motive.

Cox admitted to also shooting into the minivan after officials said the evidence didn’t match his previous stories, Bryson pointed out in his cross examination.

Bryson also pointed out that Wiley was in a Crips gang — court documents indicate he was a a member of the Eight Trey Gangster Crips — and everyone else in the car was a member of a Bloods gang. Bryson pointed out how Cox had been selling guns on Instagram and had benefited from a previous plea deal he agreed to in Durham County court just 10 days before the Zheng killing.

On April 5, 2018 Cox pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery related to a 2017 incident in which he and two others stole about $9,000 from Diamond Girls strip club on Angier Avenue, according to previous statements in Durham County court.

Cox, who agreed to testify against his co-defendants, was ultimately sentenced to two years of supervised probation, which he was on during the robbery, Bryson pointed out in court.

Bryson contended Cox was kicked out of the Bloods gang due to his cooperation in that case., but Cox said it was because he stopped “banging.”

Ultimately, Cox said, he was testifying to get justice for the family.

If Cox really wanted justice, Bryson asked him, shouldn’t Cox do the most time since he killed Zheng.

“Sir, we all did the crime,” Cox responded.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. Monday morning.

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