Crime

Man convicted of murdering a Syracuse University student to be sentenced Wednesday

Sam Ogozalek | Asst. News Editor

Syracuse University student Xiaopeng "Pippen" Yuan was shot and killed at the Springfield Garden Apartments complex on Sept. 30, 2016 in DeWitt.

Cameron Isaac, the north Syracuse man convicted of murdering Syracuse University student Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan, will be sentenced to prison Wednesday morning.

Ninimbe Mitchell, Isaac’s nephew, will also be sentenced Wednesday morning for a first-degree robbery conviction in connection to the murder.

The two men are scheduled to appear in front of State Supreme Court Justice John Brunetti around 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Isaac was convicted of first-degree murder following a jury trial last month. Mitchell was found guilty in the same trial of robbery, but acquitted of a second-degree murder charge.

Prosecutors alleged that Isaac killed Yuan as he robbed him of 2 pounds of marijuana in September of last year. Mitchell, who drove Isaac to and from the scene of the crime, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree robbery.

Isaac faces up to life in prison without parole for his first-degree murder conviction, while Mitchell faces between five and 25 years in prison for the robbery conviction.

Here is a look back at the timeline of events leading up to the Wednesday sentencings:

August 2016: Communication between Isaac and Yuan begins

After receiving Yuan’s cell phone number from a mutual friend, Isaac texted the SU student to say that he wanted to buy an eighth of marijuana. They arranged to meet at a pizza shop near Le Moyne College, where they completed the drug deal.

In the days following that deal, Isaac told Yuan he wanted to buy 2 pounds of marijuana. At the same time, Isaac was telling a friend that he planned to rob Yuan of that marijuana, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Yuan arranged to buy 4 pounds of marijuana from another SU student who frequently purchased several pounds of the drug at a time. Yuan was planning to sell 2 pounds of that marijuana to Isaac.

Sept. 30, 2016: Isaac murders Yuan

On the morning of Sept. 30, Yuan received the 4 pounds of marijuana from the other SU student. He then arranged to meet Isaac that morning to sell him 2 pounds.

Early that afternoon, Mitchell drove Isaac to the Springfield Garden Apartments complex in DeWitt, where Yuan and Isaac planned to meet. When Isaac arrived at the complex, he robbed Yuan of the marijuana and ran through the complex toward a spot where Mitchell was waiting in the car, according to authorities. Yuan chased after Isaac and, as he did, Isaac shot him twice, according to authorities. The fatal shot entered Yuan’s side and traversed his chest, killing him almost instantly.

When prosecutors arrived at the scene, they found Yuan’s body face-down in a grassy area of the complex, soaked in blood. They also found his Chevrolet Camaro in a parking lot at the complex, with the engine idling and the door open. Inside the car, they discovered Yuan’s cellphone, which they would eventually use to retrace his steps and communication with Isaac.

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Courtesy of the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office

Nov. 18, 2016: Prosecutor announces Isaac, Mitchell arrests

Mitchell and Isaac were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, first-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick announced.

Isaac and Mitchell were each arraigned in the Town of Dewitt Court and held in the Onondaga County Justice Center without bail.

In a subsequent statement to the SU community, Dean of Student Affairs Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz and Department of Public Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado called the arrests of Isaac and Mitchell the “first step toward justice for Xiaopeng.”

January 2017: Grand jury indicts Isaac, Mitchell

Isaac and Mitchell were each indicted on their charges by a grand jury. Isaac’s second-degree murder charge was also upgraded to first-degree murder.

Isaac and Mitchell each pleaded not guilty, essentially guaranteeing the case would go to trial.

Aug. 7, 2017: Trial begins

The trial of Isaac and Mitchell began at the criminal courthouse in downtown Syracuse. Brunetti oversaw the trial. Two men and 10 women were selected to serve on the jury.

Fitzpatrick, the district attorney, tried the case alongside assistant district attorney Michael Kasmarek. Syracuse-based defense attorneys William Sullivan and Paul Carey represented Isaac and Mitchell, respectively.

During the trial, the prosecution called several witnesses in an attempt to prove Isaac and Mitchell’s guilt, most notably a cellphone-mapping expert, the lead detective in the case and a firearms examiner.

The cellphone-mapping expert, Rafal Dobrowolski, used Google Maps to show the jury that the phones belonging to Isaac and Mitchell traveled from North Syracuse to the Springfield Garden Apartments complex in the hour leading up to Yuan’s death. In the minutes after his death, the analysis showed the phones moving back toward North Syracuse.

The lead detective in the case, Laura Collins, analyzed a series of text messages sent by Isaac to Yuan and friends, testifying that he coordinated to rob Yuan of the marijuana.

Matthew Kurimsky, a firearms examiner, testified that the bullet that killed Yuan was unusually similar to bullets that authorities recovered from Isaac’s apartment when they searched it in November.

Sullivan, Isaac’s attorney, argued that Isaac simply bought the marijuana from Yuan and that someone else killed Yuan. He said Yuan had a thriving business as a marijuana dealer, and as a result, developed business rivals and enemies who may have had motive to kill him.

Carey, Mitchell’s attorney, argued that Mitchell was unaware of any plans for Isaac to rob Yuan when he agreed to drive him to the scene.

Aug. 15, 2017: Isaac convicted

After deliberating for a few hours, jurors found Isaac guilty of first-degree murder. Isaac bowed his head as the jury announced his guilty verdict and nodded to family members as he exited the courtroom.

Aug. 16, 2017: Mitchell convicted of robbery; acquitted of murder

After more than a full day of deliberations, jurors found Mitchell not guilty of second-degree murder but guilty of first-degree robbery.

Brunetti, the judge, briefly dismissed jurors after the verdict was announced before determining whether to accept their verdict. Carey then told Brunetti he felt it was “repugnant” that jurors found Mitchell guilty of the first-degree robbery charge despite finding him not guilty of murder.

Mitchell received the murder charge because prosecutors alleged that he participated willingly in a robbery that turned deadly. Carey said he believed the verdict thus contradicted itself and hinted that he would appeal the robbery conviction. Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told Brunetti he found the verdict acceptable.

Brunetti told Carey that he disagreed with him and that jurors had the right to render the verdicts that they did.

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Sam Ogozalek | Asst. News Editor

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