No plea from accused

Fri, August 20, 2004

A 21-YEAR-OLD student accused of abducting and killing 9-year-old Cecilia Zhang made a very brief court appearance yesterday. And his lawyer, John Rosen, said it could be some time before Min Chen, a Chinese national, enters a plea to a charge of first-degree murder.

"In these kinds of cases there is no plea ... expected until trial," he said outside court. "And that's a long time away."

Chen, in a prison-issue orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, fidgeted in the prisoner's box.

During the three-minute court appearance, a court clerk called for a Chinese interpreter. When one failed to come, Justice Leon Fayolle asked Chen if he understood why he was in court and was being held in custody. Chen nodded and said, "Yes, I understand, yes."

Chen was picked up by members of the Cecilia Task Force on July 21 at a Scarborough apartment and charged with first-degree murder.

Cecilia's remains were found by a hiker on March 27 in a ravine next to the Credit River 162 days after she went missing.

Rosen -- best known for taking on high-profile clients like Paul Bernardo -- would not respond directly to questions about his client or his mental and physical condition.

"We are only in the preliminary stages. It will take some considerable ... time for this case to pass through the system," said Rosen.

Jack Jia, a member of the Chinese media and a friend of the Zhang family, said he occasionally speaks with Cecilia's parents -- Raymond and Sherry -- but said they don't want to comment on the case because "they don't want to jeopardize the trial."

Until his next appearance in the Brampton court on Sept. 1 Chen is being kept in segregation at Maplehurst detention centre in Milton.