Homeless man gets 42 years to life for ’98 murder

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A Queens homeless man was sentenced last week to 42 years to life in jail for killing and robbing a Chinese food restaurant owner in 1998 when he was delivering food in Hollis, the Queens district attorney’s office said.

Donail Branch, 23, was convicted April 30 by a jury at State Supreme Court of two counts of murder. He was sentenced May 16 by State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Rosenzweig to 42 years to life in jail, said Mary de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Branch 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.

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 Herzog, 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.

Branch robbed a deliveryman Dec. 24, 1998 as he came out of an elevator at 87-20 175th St., Brown 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, he said.

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 or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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