By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
RAFU STAFF WRITER
Jian Hong Li, 39, was arraigned and pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of murder and attempted robbery in the Jan. 5 slaying of hotel manager Hideko Oyama and bail was set at $1 million. A hearing has been set for Jan. 29. If convicted, Li, who has no prior criminal record, faces life in prison.
Nine days after her murder, Oyama was described as a devoted mother and grandmother who shunned retirement to welcome travelers, aided the homeless and did her best never to miss a Lakers game.
Los Angeles Police officials again gathered Thursday at the Chetwood Hotel on Fourth Street, this time to give details about the arrest in the killing of the former manager.
The representatives from the LAPD were joined at the lunchtime press conference Thursday by city councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the 9th District, where the Chetwood sits. Also attending was June Oyama Lowry, the daughter of the hotel manager who was slain on Jan. 5. Dressed in a dark suit and sunglasses, Lowry struggled to contain her sobs as the officials made their comments.
“There’s no real way of saying that this is a happy ending,” said Capt. Todd Chamberlain, the commanding officer of LAPD’s Central Division. “One thing we can say is that with the apprehension of the suspect that was involved with this, we at least have a just ending.”
Chamberlain called Li, the suspect in the killing, “someone who did not need to be on the streets of Los Angeles,” and commended detectives and officers for making a timely and effective arrest in the case.
Calling the crime “truly shocking,” Perry said she was comforted by the swift action by police and noted that there hasn’t been a murder in the Little Tokyo area since the 1970s.
“This is a really special community,” Perry said. “Vibrant, close, connected, a tight-knit neighborhood with a deep dedication to public service and public safety and a great relationship working with the police department. It’s this kind of relationship that lends itself to incredible police work.”
Lt. Paul Vernon revealed some additional details about the case and the ensuing arrest, describing how Li, who had legally immigrated from Hong Kong about 10 years ago, had lived at the Chetwood for several weeks and was the only resident the detectives had not been able to locate after the murder. Investigators ran down leads from Little Tokyo to Camarillo, where Li had also been known to live and work, but it was walking distance from the hotel where he was spotted by officers.
“After making a number of contacts with acquaintances, family and employers, we got a tip Tuesday afternoon, one week after the homicide had occurred, that Li was walking near First Street and Boyle in East Los Angeles,” Vernon explained. “Following his detention and interview, detectives developed enough probable cause to book Li for the murder of Hideko Oyama.”
The motive appeared to be robbery, Vernon said, adding that at this point it is unclear whether any money was actually stolen. Prosecutors said that Li used a cleaver in the crime, during which Oyama was slashed across her face and neck. A tourist staying at the Chetwood found the 74-year-old manager still able to speak but mortally wounded on the floor of her office.
Lowry opted to have Vernon read comments she had prepared for the conference.
“My mother was spunky and had a huge heart,” wrote Lowry, a resident of Ventura County. “She often recycled bottles and cans then handed out dollar bills to some of the folks at the Mission. She was a hard worker, yet enjoyed interacting and working with the younger Japanese folks in Little Tokyo.”
In a handout statement, Lowry described how her mother, a native of Yamagata Prefecture in Japan, had married and moved to Los Angeles with their daughter in the late 1960s. Rough times followed in the 70s, as she struggled financially, separated from an abusive husband and was caring for her son, born with Cerebral Palsy. After Oyama’s physical condition forced her to leave her job as a waitress, she took up hotel management, feeling an obligation to assist and befriend visitors from Japan.
“She loved to laugh and live life to the utmost degree,” Vernon read. “I’m thankful for pictures and videos I have, so I can still see my mother, just as she can see me now. We will miss her sorely and we will remember her forever in our hearts, as one strong, caring, passionate, loving mother, and a grandmother with a wicked sense of humor.”