Suspect in high school student's slaying pleads not guilty 

The teen suspect in the grisly killing and botched body disposal of his pal, a 16-year-old high school sophomore in San Francisco, pleaded not guilty to murder Wednesday.

The 15-year-old suspect, who The San Francisco Examiner is not naming because he is a minor, is denying charges that he murdered Andy Zeng with a gunshot to the back of the head and took part in a disturbing plot to burn the body inside his home.

The boy’s attorney, Tony Tamburello, has said that his client thought the gun was unloaded and that he didn't mean to shoot his friend.

According to prosecutors’ account, the boy not only murdered Zeng, but considered cutting his body in half and setting it on fire with gasoline in order to dispose of it.

The teen called three or four boys for help, one whom was referred to as a “fire expert,” prosecutors said. But the fire never started – their matches went damp, prosecutors said.

Zeng’s body was found in the lower apartment of a two-story home at 2138 Quesada Ave. the morning of April 10. Neighbors upstairs made the grisly find after smelling gas.

Police arrested four people following the shooting. Two have been charged.

One of those, 18-year-old Jimmy Lei of San Francisco, pleaded not guilty in San Francisco Superior Court last month to charges of accessory to murder after the fact, attempted arson and use of an incendiary device.

On Wednesday, the 15-year-old boy pleaded not guilty charges of murder, attempted arson and use of an incendiary device.

Prosecutors said Zeng’s body was found with black garbage bags over his head and legs. He said the 15-year-old boy, whose father rented the apartment, admitted to shooting Zeng in the back of the head with a .22-caliber handgun, but claimed it had been an accident.

Lei arrived at the apartment with three 1-gallon containers filled with gasoline and latex gloves, prosecutors said. The group then brought the body out of a closet, he said.

Lei recommended “cutting the deceased in half to make it easier,” prosecutors said. He then handed the 15-year-old boy a butcher knife, but when the boy refused. Lei suggested they break Zeng’s legs, prosecutors said.

They then doused the floor with gasoline, they said.

According to a police source, the matches the teens were going to use were damp and they could not start the fire.

The 15-year-old boy remains in custody on no-bail status. He is scheduled to return for a status hearing on June 2. Tamburello said he must labor through more than 1,000 pages of evidence and other material related to the case.

“I expect this will be a long contested hearing,” Tamburello said.

Zeng, a sophomore at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, was described by schoolmates and the principal as a jovial and polite kid who had no gang ties.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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