Local News

Man convicted in beating death of UNC professor

Posted March 16

— A Chapel Hill man was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for the beating death of a University of North Carolina professor in a mugging near campus almost three years ago.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than four hours over two days before finding Troy Arrington Jr. guilty of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the death of Feng Liu.

"This is the culmination of a tragedy all the way around," Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said as he tacked an extra 128 to 166 months in prison onto Arrington's life sentence for the robbery charge.

Liu, 59, a research professor in UNC-Chapel Hill's Eshelman School of Pharmacy, was taking a lunchtime walk on July 23, 2014, when he was beaten with a rock and robbed near the intersection of Ransom Street and West University Drive, police said. He died the following day at UNC Hospitals.

Arrington, 27, of Johnson Street in Chapel Hill, and Derick Davis II, 23, of Scots Pine Crossing in Durham, were arrested within hours.

Lu Zhang, one of Liu's co-workers, said she was thankful for the guilty verdict.

"He just took a lunch walk, a lunch walk. He didn't deserve this," Zhang said of Liu. "It was a big loss for his family and our community."

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall read a letter that Liu's son-in-law, Will Norfleet, wrote shortly after the murder.

"The entire world is worse off without him," Norfleet wrote. "He was such a kind, gentle man who would go out of his way to help anyone he could. So, how could he die through such a violent, unmerciful act?"

Liu worked his way through school as a carpenter and immigrated from China so his daughter would have opportunities women don't have there, Norfleet wrote, adding that his wife is now a physician.

Norfleet wrote that his father-in-law, a noted cancer researcher, was killed a couple of months before his granddaughter was born and a few years shy of retiring to the North Carolina mountains, where he planned to tend a garden on Norfleet's family farm.

"'Baba' lived a simple life with his family, and it was taken away for a couple of credit cards," he wrote in the letter.

"This is such a brutal and senseless case," Woodall told Baddour.

Arrington and Davis were out looking for people to rob, the prosecutor said, telling jurors in his closing argument Wednesday that Liu was attacked from behind and left in the roadway "not because of what he did have in his pockets but what he might have."

"It's clear the defendant has no respect for law," Woodall said Thursday, noting that Arrington was out on bond awaiting trial on separate charges in Durham – he was even wearing a GPS monitor on his ankle – when Liu was attacked.

The defense pointed the finger at Davis as Liu's killer and said Arrington played no role in the attack, and they immediately appealed the verdict and sentence.

A trial date for Davis hasn't been set.

After the sentencing, Hongbin Gu, another co-worker of Liu's at UNC, hugged Arrington's mother, who repeatedly said, "I'm sorry."

"I think our communities should reach out and help each other," Gu said.

2 Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Tim Orr Mar 16, 2017
    user avatar

    Life? Really? What is wrong with our court system? Put this murderer and his accomplice to death. I'm tired of our tax money keeping people like that alive. A homeless child has to go hungry to keep this murderer alive.

  • Ben Hill Mar 16, 2017
    user avatar

    Good riddance. Too bad it took the senseless murder of a person doing good for humanity to get this career criminal off the streets for good.