Former Cornell student Charles Tan ’17 was sentenced to 20 years in jail on Nov. 19 for three federal charges in connection with the 2015 murder of his father.
On Feb. 9, 2015, a gun purchased by Whitney Knickerbocker ’18, Tan’s friend, was used in the murder of Charles’s father Liang “Jim” Tan. Charles, who was then 20 years old, was initially arrested for the murder, however the charges against the student were dropped after a four week trial ended in a hung jury.
Tan declined to return to Cornell following the murder trial. He instead returned to living in Canada, but was arrested at the border in September 2017 on his way to attending a friend’s wedding and was indicted on new gun charges. New surveillance footage emerged from a Walmart in Cortland showing Tan attempting to purchase a gun, being denied because of his Canadian citizenship and then Knickerbocker purchasing the gun shortly thereafter.
After initially pleading not-guilty, Tan pleaded guilty to the three federal gun charges in a June hearing, two relating to the fact that he tricked Knickerbocker into buying a gun for him, and one because he knew the gun would be used in a crime, The Sun previously reported.
The federal guidelines for the sentencing of the crimes Tan committed carried a maximum of 25 years in prison, but the judge was not bound to those guidelines.
If Tan has good behavior, federal guidelines mandate that a prisoner can be released after serving 85 percent of their sentence, which would be approximately 17 years for Tan. Since Tan is a Canadian citizen, he is likely to be deported after he is released from prison.
At the sentencing hearing that was held in Syracuse, Tan’s lawyers asked for a sentence of five years due to Tan’s character. Coaches, family and friends filled the courtroom providing overwhelming support for Tan, vouching for his character.
However, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Lisa Fletcher maintained that this was a premeditated murder and that Tan did in fact shoot his father. Additionally, Fletcher addressed the support that Tan had at the sentencing, noting that he should not be given any special treatment.
“The law must be applied equally both to those who come from privilege and those who do not, both to those who can muster a room full of supporters and those who can’t,” she said.
Judge U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. decided there was overwhelming evidence that Tan murdered his father, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.
Although friends and family provided support for Tan, new evidence surfaced ahead of his sentencing that counteracted the claims his supporters were making.
At the November hearing, it was revealed in the presentence court filing by Fletcher that Tan sold marijuana and psychedelic drugs, psilocybin mushrooms and DMT. Earlier this year, the investigators had obtained a warrant for Tan’s and his mother’s cell phones. Through new technology, the information about him selling drugs was extracted from the cell phones.
The phone records revealed that Tan charged $200 an ounce for marijuana and in January 2015, he received a shipment of 5 pounds of marijuana for $12,000.
Scullin additionally noted that Tan selling drugs addressed that his character may have not been as strong as everyone else thought it was.
“Clearly there is a side of you that many people here are not aware of,” Scullin said.
Questions arose prior to the sentencing due to the many variables in play, which included allegations of abuse in Tan’s household and Tan not being convicted of the murder of his father.
During the trial in 2015, 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 because 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,” as explained by an investigator during the testimony.