Charles Tan ’17 has been serving out a 20-year prison sentence on federal gun charges. Now, he is seeking a reduced sentenced based on claims that his attorneys did not provide an adequate account of the history of domestic violence that drove him to kill his father, and they advised him not to plead guilty when he was originally charged in 2015.

November 21, 2019

Former Cornell Student, Cleared of Murder Charges, Admits in Affidavit to Killing Father in 2015

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Charlie Tan ’17, a former Cornell student, admitted in an affidavit filed in federal court on Monday to killing his father, Liang “Jim” Tan, in 2015. Tan was arrested for the murder but the charges were dropped after a four-week trial that ended in a hung jury in 2016.

“I entered my parent’s home through the back door, walked upstairs turned into my father’s office and shot my father three times as he was sitting at his desk. I knew I had killed him,” Tan wrote in the affidavit.

Tan is currently in prison; he was sentenced in to 20 years in jail in November 2018 after pleading guilty to three federal gun charges filed in connection to the gun used in the 2015 murder of his father.

Tan is seeking a reduced sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing. Rochester criminal defense attorneys James Nobles and Brian DeCaroli represented Tan during sentencing for the gun charges and during the state murder trial.

Tan claims the two failed to provide the full history of domestic violence and abuse within Tan’s family and advised him not to admit guilt.

“They advised me not to admit that I shot my father. They were the legal experts, and so I accepted that strategy, even though I knew what I had done was wrong,” Tan wrote.

New York City-based attorney Joel B. Rudin ’74, former managing editor of The Sun, is currently representing Tan on his motion.

After the murder charges were dropped because the judge declared a mistrial, Tan declined to return to Cornell ahead of a campus disciplinary hearing, The Sun previously reported. He instead returned to living in Canada, but was arrested at the border in September 2017 on the gun charges while attempting to return to the US for a friend’s wedding.

The gun used in the murder was purchased by Whitney Knickerbocker ’18, his friend and fraterity brother. The charges stemmed from the fact that Tan tricked Knickerbocker into buying the gun and ammunition for “hunting purposes,” and because he knew the gun would be used in a crime.

In the affidavit, Tan describes a history of abuse within his household and growing up in fear. Throughout out the case, Tan and his mother spoke about his father’s abuse, often resulting in documented police visits to his home. The police visits recounted in the affidavit resulted in his father leaving the home for a few days, Tan wrote.

“I remember spending my sixth or seventh birthday in a women’s shelter and feeling relieved to be there because anything was better than being at home with all the fighting and abuse,” Tan wrote.

The abuse got worse after Tan left for Cornell, he said. He recalled an incident his mother told him about on Jan. 28, 2015 where his father choked her and she lost consciousness.

The motion includes 27 exhibits and a 51-page psychological evaluation. A court date to address the motion has been set for March 6, 2020.

People convicted in federal courts and in custody can submit a motion under 28 U.S. Code § 2255 for relief  “upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.”