Queens homeless man convicted of murder

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Donail Branch, 23, was convicted by a jury at...

By Betsy Scheinbart

A Queens homeless man was convicted of the 1998 murder of a Queens Village Chinese restaurant owner who was delivering food in Hollis and killed during a robbery, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Donail Branch, 23, was convicted by a jury at State Supreme Court of two counts of murder.

He was also convicted of several counts of robbery and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon for the murder and for the unrelated robberies of another Chinese food deliveryman in 1998 and an elderly woman in 1999.

Branch faces more than 75 years to life in prison when he is sentenced May 16 by State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Rosenzweig.

The district attorney’s office did not have an address on record for Branch, who was apparently living with friends in Queens at the time of his arrest, said Betsy Hertzog, a spokeswoman for the DA.

On Dec. 10, 1998, Li Rong Lin, 44, was delivering food to an apartment building at 104-25 195th St. at about 11 p.m. when he was fatally stabbed twice in the chest with a 12-inch kitchen knife, the DA and police said.

Lin, the owner of the “China Buffet” restaurant on Hillside Avenue at 204th Street in Jamaica, was living in Queens Village at the time of his death.

He immigrated to Queens from China’s Fujian Province 10 years before he was murdered and robbed of $70 and a bag of Chinese food. He is survived by a wife and three children.

Police said the food order was legitimate, suggesting the murder was not planned.

“The crimes of which the defendant was convicted last night are extremely upsetting on a number of levels,” Brown said. “They are random acts of violence — crimes of opportunity — and they involved vulnerable victims.”

Branch robbed a deliveryman Dec. 24, 1998 as he came out of an elevator at 87-20 175th St., the DA said. On Jan. 4, 1999, he robbed an 86-year-old woman in the lobby of her building, taking her wallet and personal property and striking her in the leg with a hammer, Brown said.

“The defendant faces more than 75 years in prison when he is sentenced and he deserves every minute of it,” Brown said. “I hope that such a lengthy sentence can be of some consolation to the families of the victims.”

More than a year after Lin’s murder, a strikingly similar crime occurred when Chinese restaurant owner Jin Sheng Liu was beaten to death in Springfield Gardens.

Five teens were arrested for the Sept. 1, 2000 murder, but their trial has not yet started. They are accused of ordering $60 of Chinese food and then beating Liu with a brick when the delivery arrived.

Liu also emigrated from China’s Fujian Province and his wife and two teenage children were left homeless for several months after his death. They lived illegally in the back room of the restaurant until city funding helped them get an apartment in March.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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