Orange County

Troy Arrington sentenced to life without parole for murder of UNC professor

Troy Arrington (far left, rear) casts a last glance back at family and friends before exiting the Orange County Courthouse courtroom in which he'd just been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of UNC-Chapel Hill professor Feng Liu.
Troy Arrington (far left, rear) casts a last glance back at family and friends before exiting the Orange County Courthouse courtroom in which he'd just been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of UNC-Chapel Hill professor Feng Liu.

A jury Thursday morning found Troy Arrington guilty of first-degree murder in the death of UNC professor Feng Liu. was sentenced to life without parole at the Orange County Courthouse.

Arrington was found to have beaten Liu on the head with a rock on July 23, 2014 during a robbery. Liu died the next day.

The first-degree murder verdict was based on premeditation and deliberation.

Arrington, 30, of Chapel Hill, was also found him guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to 128 to 166 months in prison, a sentence to begin after the conclusion of his life sentence.

Arrington is one of two men charged in Liu’s slaying. Derick Davis II, 26, of Durham, is jailed and awaiting trial on the same charges.

The Superior Court jury began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, adjourned at around 5:30 p.m., then resumed deliberating at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and came to its verdict late Thursday morning.

After the jury's verdict was read aloud to the court and before sentencing began, Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall argued for Arrington's receiving an additional sentence for armed robbery with a dangerous weapon on top of the mandatory life without parole Arrington would receive for first-degree murder.

“I don't know what will happen with the law,” Woodall said. “The law can change. Things can change. I think it is important that he be punished separately for the armed robbery. I think this is such a brutal and senseless case, that this helps, in some degree, to insure future safety in our community.”

Arrington killed Liu while out of jail on pretrial release.

“Because I think, based on his record, it is clear, that the defendant has no respect for the law,” Woodall said.

Seeking to illustrate the potential menace Arrington poses to society, Woodall read letters aloud to the court exemplifying the emotional strain Arrington's murdering Liu had already inflicted. Two letters were written by Liu's son-in-law, Will Norflett.

The first letter Woodall read was written by Norflett within three weeks of Liu's death on July 24, 2014.

Norflett wrote on behalf of Liu's entire family, including his wife and daughter, Woodall said. Liu's grandchild was born several weeks after his death.

“To whom it may concern,” Woodall read. “It is impossible to express how the death of my beloved father-in-law Feng Liu has affected our family...”

Norflett's letter described Liu as a joyful spirit, an optimistic man full of hope for the futures of his daughter and his, then, yet unborn granddaughter. Two weeks before he died, Liu had visited his pregnant daughter and her husband, Norflett, at their home Asheville. They went shopping for cribs.

“The expected baby is all Feng could talk about the entire visit. He was killed just three short months before his daughter's due date,” Woodall read. “Feng Liu will never have the chance to meet his long awaited granddaughter in this world.”

Norflett saw Liu lying in critical condition at UNC Health Care's Intensive Care Unit shortly before he was taken off life support and wrote that until that moment, he hadn't known a human head could swell to such robust proportions. Liu's face had enlarged so that his eyes were no longer visible.

Woodall said Norflett was unable to be in court Thursday for undisclosed reasons, despite “desperately” wishing to be present.

Norflett's second letter read aloud by the Woodall, was written Wednesday night.

In his second letter Norflett wrote that Liu grew up poor in northeastern China, immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen because he wanted his daughter to grow up in a country where women are afforded opportunity. He loved dogs and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Norflett added.

Public defender Dana Graves addressed Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour on behalf of Arrington before the sentencing and sought leniency for her client based on his troubled background.

“We, and by 'we' I mean Troy, have never contended that what happened to professor Liu was not horrible and tragic,” Graves said.

Arrington is no stranger to violence, Graves said. She said he witnessed his own father's murder at a young age, experienced domestic abuse, watched his mother's boyfriend hurt her and was removed from his mother's care by Child Protective Services. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder stemming from his experiences with his mother's abusive boyfriend and a depression disorder.

Arrington bounced from foster home to foster home, Graves told the judge.

Arrington was interviewed by Chapel Hill Police investigators following the robbery and assault and prior to Liu's death, Graves said, “At one point Troy told (an) investigator ..., that if [Liu] died, he might have to be placed in a mental institution, so he was that deeply upset.”

Graves “strongly” encouraged the court to give Arrington a concurrent sentence on the armed robbery conviction. But, her wish was not granted and Baddour issued Arrington the maximum sentence for robbery with a dangerous weapon, to begin after his life without the possibility for parole for first-degree murder.

When Baddour asked Arrington if there was anything he would like to say to court, at a near inaudible volume, the young man said, “Nah, I'm good.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks