Charlie Tan '17 pleads guilty to purchasing the gun used to kill his father.

July 18, 2018

Former Cornell Student, Cleared of Murdering Father, Pleads Guilty to Purchasing Gun

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A former Cornell student, Charles Tan ’17, admitted on June 22 in Syracuse Federal Court to purchasing a gun with the intent to kill — the same gun used in the February 2015 murder of his father.

Tan was indicted on three federal gun charges in September 2017. The charges all involved a Model 870 12-gauge shotgun, Winchester 12-gauge ammunition and Federal 12-gauge shotgun ammunition purchased at a Walmart in Cortland, NY in February 2015, prior to the death of his father.

The trial was scheduled for June 25 in Syracuse, but Tan pleaded guilty to all three charges in federal court ahead of the trial date. He is currently being held in the Cayuga County Jail in Auburn until the sentencing hearing set for October 18. Tan is facing up to 25 years in federal prison and potentially deportation back to Canada.

On February 9, 2015, Tan’s father, Liang “Jim” Tan was found dead with gunshot wounds at the family’s home in Pittsford, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester.

As previously reported by The Sun, prosecutors alleged Tan had asked Whitney Knickerbocker ’18, a friend, to purchase the gun and ammunition for him from the Cortland Walmart in February 2015.

The charges were filed in September 2017 after surveillance footage surfaced from the Walmart store that showed Tan entering the Walmart, attempting to purchase the shotgun and being denied because of his Canadian citizenship, followed by Knickerbocker successfully purchasing the gun used in the murder.

Knickerbocker did not face any charges from the incident, and federal authorities claimed that Tan told Knickerbocker the gun was for hunting purposes. At the time of the gun purchase, Knickerbocker was a freshman pledging Tan’s fraternity, and the two were also football teammates and had attended the same high school.

Tan had recently returned home for an unknown reason a few days before his father was found dead. He was arrested on second-degree murder charges, to which he plead not guilty, the day after his father was found in February 2015.

A deputy testified Tan told him, “I had to do it” in the driveway, according to  the report filed after the incident.

The first trial for Tan began in September 2015. However, the jurors were unable to come to a cohesive conclusion after reportedly being deadlocked for 50 hours, and a mistrial was declared.

During the trial, Tan’s defense lawyer James Nobles argued that there was a history of abuse in the family and that Tan’s mother had called 911 asking for help, saying that Tan’s father had almost killed her, The Sun previously reported.

An email from Tan to his Chi Phi fraternity brothers at Cornell was also entered into evidence during the second-degree murder trial, 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.

County Court Judge James Piampiano dismissed the charges against Tan, declaring a lack of justification to warrant a second trial.

After the murder trial, Tan declined to return to Cornell ahead of his scheduled disciplinary hearing to determine if he broke the University code of conduct.

Tan had returned to living in Canada and stayed out of the spotlight until two years after the trials, in September 2017, when he was arrested at the border on the new gun charges while attempting to enter the U.S. to attend a friend’s wedding.