2 charged with murder in UNC prof's death
Chapel Hill police have charged two men with first-degree murder in the death of UNC professor Feng Liu.
Derick Davis II, 23, of Durham, and Troy Arrington Jr., 27, of Chapel Hill, are accused of assaulting and robbing Liu on Wednesday afternoon. He died Thursday morning. Davis and Arrington are currently being held in the Orange County Jail without bond.
Liu, who lived in Durham, was a research professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at UNC. He had been with the university since August 2005. He was promoted to research professor in 2012.
“(Liu’s) lab is just in complete shock right now,” David Etchsion, director of communications for the School of Pharmacy said.
In an email to The Herald-Sun, Michael Jay, chair of the Molecular Pharmaceutics division of the school, said he and his colleagues were “saddened” by Liu’s death.
“He will be greatly missed,” Jay said.
Liu established a highly respected and well-funded research laboratory that now has seven trainees, said Russell Mumper, vice dean of the school and a professor in the molecular pharmaceutics division.
Liu’s research interests focused on gene and drug delivery. Liu received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pharmaceutics science at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University, China, and his doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.
“This is a tremendous loss to Carolina, and I am heartbroken over this horrible tragedy,” Chancellor Carol Folt said in an email to students and staff Thursday afternoon. “… Dr. Liu spent nearly 10 years at Carolina and was dedicated to the success of his students. He conducted important research on gene and drug delivery in the School of Pharmacy. Most importantly, he was a loving husband and father who will be greatly missed.”
Mumper said Liu was primarily involved in cancer research, and used nanotechnology to try to find ways to improve drug delivery. He was widely published and referenced, Mumper said.
“One of the best ways to understand the influence that a scientist has had is how often other people in that research area reference the work, and Feng Liu was highly referenced,” he said.
Liu was passionate about his research, very engaged in the development of his trainees, and was also a devoted family man with an immediate family in the area. He’s been involved in the straining of hundreds of students.
“He’s one of the most passionate and optimistic people that many of us have ever know,” Mumper said. “He was always smiling, looking at the bright side of things, and he brought that enthusiasm, passion and optimism to his science that is just not replaceable.”
The school will address how to make sure that his research carries on in the future, Mumper said. Grief counselors were made available for faculty, staff and students on Thursday.
“I think it’s just a tragedy and it’s a devastating loss and one that’s difficult to comprehend,” he said. “It’s just, I can’t articulate the loss and how Feng will just never be replaceable.”
Chapel Hill police confirmed this afternoon that Liu suffered a head injury in the beating. Police do not know currently what caused the injury.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt characterized Liu’s death as a “horrible tragedy and a loss for the Chapel Hill community.”
“I have the utmost confidence in the investigation that is being conducted by the Chapel Hill Police Department, which will provide information to the public as it becomes available,” Kleinschmidt said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
Chapel Hill police believe the main motive in the case was the robbery. They’re still trying to find out how the robbery escalated into a homicide.
“(We) don’t know, whether the assault took place before or after, that’s something we have to try and figure out,” Mecimore said.
Davis has previously been convicted on multiple charges of felony breaking and entering, larceny and possession of stolen goods in Durham County. Charges date back to 2007.
Arrington has previously been convicted of gun crimes, such as possession of a stolen fire arm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon, as well as felony drug charges. Charges date back to 2006. He’s been charged in crimes from Alamance, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.
Herald-Sun reporter Laura Oleniacz contributed to this report. Follow on Twitter at @LaurenHorsch