Former Cornell student Charles Tan ’17, who was accused — and cleared — of murdering his father in 2015, pleaded not guilty to new federal gun charges on Saturday afternoon in Syracuse.
Two years after avoiding a conviction in the death of his father, Tan is facing several charges in federal court, including a weapons charge, all stemming from 2015, according to court documents filed in August. In the new federal indictment, Tan is accused of illegally receiving a firearm and ammunition with the intent of using them to commit a crime and convincing someone else to lie to buy them for him.
If convicted, Tan could face at least one year in prison or be deported to Canada.
These charges are tied to the second-degree murder charges brought against Tan in February 2015 after the death of his father, Liang “Jim” Tan, which a judge dismissed in November 2015.
Charlie Tan was 19 and a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2015 when police discovered his father shot dead in their suburban Rochester home, The Sun previously reported.
Tan’s trial ended in a mistral in October 2015, and a judge dismissed the charges in November 2015, finding that a deadlocked jury was unlikely to reach consensus, The Sun reported. Some jurors in the murder trial had said that, through deliberations, vote totals fluctuated significantly, with some minds changing “every day,” The Sun previously reported.
Although Tan originally planned to return to Cornell after his trial once the second degree murder charges against him had been dropped, Tan withdrew in March 2016, in advance of a disciplinary hearing that would have determined whether he violated the University’s Campus Code of Conduct.
Since the murder charges were dismissed, Tan dropped out of Cornell and has been living in Canada. When Tan returned to the U.S. to attend a friend’s wedding, he was indicted Friday evening, his attorney Brian DeCarolis said, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Now back in custody, the United States has charged Tan with one count of receiving a firearm and ammunition with the intent to commit an offense, a felony, according to the indictment, which was made public on Friday.
Tan purchased the firearm four days before he was arrested for his father’s death, prosecutors say. Tan received the firearm and ammunition, prosecutors said, with intent to commit murder in the second degree, manslaughter in the first degree, and manslaughter in the second degree, and willfully caused another to commit those acts, the indictment said.
Prosecutors in the case said the weapon used to kill Tan’s father was purchased at the Wal-Mart in Cortland. Tan could not buy the gun, prosecutors said, so he got a friend to purchase the gun for him.
Prosecutors said Tan, who was attending Cornell at the time, tried to buy a gun at the Wal-Mart, but was denied. Afterwards, prosecutors said, Tan received a Remington Model 870 12-Gauge Shotgun, Winchester 12-Gauge ammunition, and Federal 12-Gauge Shotgun ammunition from Whitney Knickerbocker ’18, a friend of Tan’s and a football teammate when Tan’s father was killed, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Knickerbocker is also a member of the Chi Phi fraternity, which Tan had been a part of at the time, according to the website of the fraternity’s Xi chapter at Cornell.
Prosecutors claimed that Knickerbocker purchased the gun for Tan at his request after the store initially declined to sell the gun to Tan, because of his Canadian citizenship, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Tan’s paperwork was eventually approved — non-citizens can own guns in the United States — but by then, Knickerbocker had already purchased the gun, prosecutors said.
Four days after the gun purchase, Tan’s mother, Qing “Jean” Tan, called 911 telling them her son had shot her husband to death while defending her, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Police arrived at Tan’s house in Pittsford, where deputies found gunshot wounds to the father’s chest, shoulder, arm and face, and the medical examiner testified that Jim Tan died at least one or two days prior, according to WHEC. A deputy testified Charles Tan told him, “I had to do it” in the driveway, the report said.
Tan was arrested, left Cornell, and charged with second-degree murder, according to reports. During his trial, Tan’s attorneys argued that his father had been abusive to both him and his mother, and that the prosecution failed to prove that Tan ever even held the murder weapon, reports said.
During the second-degree murder trial, an email from Tan to his Chi Phi fraternity brothers at Cornell was entered into evidence, which read: “Non Sibi — how I like to think my actions reflect in the whole scheme of things. Thank you for teaching me this lesson.”
“Non sibi” was tattooed on Tan’s arm and means “not for self,” an investigator explained during testimony, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Terry Cullen, the head coach of Cornell’s sprint football team, of which Tan had been a part, testified that Tan had played for the team for two years and described him to be “very positive” and “a really good guy,” the report said. An investigator had testified that a former neighbor described Jim Tan as “unfriendly and intimidating,” the report said.
Charged now with new weapons charges, Tan pleaded not guilty on Saturday. A detention hearing for Tan has been ordered for Wednesday. He is being held in federal custody at the Cayuga County Jail in Auburn until then.
DeCarolis, Tan’s attorney, told the Democrat and Chronicle that Tan’s friends will again support him through the upcoming proceedings.