Suspect to plead not guilty in webcam death

ROB GILLIES - Associated Press
April 22, 2011
This undated photo provided by the Toronto Police shows Qian Liu of Beijing. Liu, a York University student, was found dead in her apartment near the school last Friday. She was last seen alive on a webcam by her boyfriend in China, who witnessed her struggling with a man before the camera was abruptly shut off.  (AP Photo/Toronto Police via The Canadian Press)
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This undated photo provided by the Toronto Police shows Qian Liu of Beijing. Liu, a York University student, was found dead in her apartment near the school last Friday. She was last seen alive on a webcam by her boyfriend in China, who witnessed her struggling with a man before the camera was abruptly shut off.

The man accused of killing a Chinese student, attacked in her apartment as her boyfriend watched helplessly through a webcam, will "absolutely" plead not guilty, his lawyer said Friday.

"We want to put together a strong defense and I anticipate that on behalf of my client," Steven Krys, who is representing 29-year-old Brian Dickson, told The Associated Press.

The body of York University student Liu Qian, 23, of Beijing, was found last Friday in her Toronto apartment a few hours after her boyfriend witnessed what appeared to be the beginning of the attack before the webcam was shut off.

Liu was found naked from the waist down but there were no obvious signs of sexual assault or trauma severe enough to kill her. An autopsy on Liu's body was inconclusive, and police say it may be weeks before the results of toxicology tests are known.

Liu's distraught mother Zheng Yaru and father Liu Jianhui visited the coroner's office on Thursday after meeting with police. Tears streamed down Zheng's face and she was assisted by others as she left the morgue.

Police refused to release any details about the crime or its possible motive.

Dickson lived in an apartment in the same house as Liu, a police source said on condition of anonymity because the source wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

Liu was chatting with her boyfriend, Meng Xianchao, by webcam at about 1 a.m. Friday when a man knocked on the door, police said.

Meng reported seeing a struggle break out between the two before Liu's webcam was shut off. Meng contacted other friends in Toronto who in turn called police.

"I think she trusted him," Meng told broadcaster CTV News. "If it were someone she didn't trust she wouldn't have let him in."

Dickson stood Thursday before the court in a wrinkled white shirt and blue jeans as a charge of first-degree murder was read. He did not enter a plea and his case was held over until April 26. The justice of the peace imposed a publication ban on nearly all other details.

Dickson was arrested Wednesday. Toronto spokesman Tony Vella said Dickson was known to police but would not elaborate.

Police searched Dickson's family residence in the east end of Toronto and confiscated a computer.

Police only announced his name and age on Wednesday and asked the media not to publish any photos of Dickson, saying it could compromise the investigation. Vella declined to elaborate on the request.

Police released no motive or details about Dickson.

Lorne Hiro, a neighbor of Dickson's family, said he seemed like a good guy.

"I know that there are some other people that actually did know him a lot more in the last few years and they mentioned that they were unsettled with him at times," Hiro said.

"I saw his parents last night just to give them my condolences. They are in really rough shape now. It's a very embarrassing situation for them to be in and heartbreaking," he added.

One acquaintance also described the Toronto man as an aspiring actor.

Patricia Tomasi, a Facebook friend of Dickson's, said she acted in a play at a local theater in Toronto with Dickson in 2007.

"He doesn't seem like the type but that's what they always say," Tomasi said of the allegations. "He's tall with boyish good looks. I don't know much about him except that he wanted to be an actor."

Dickson attended York University where he studied global politics, but did not earn a degree from there.

He later worked for the Atlantic Council of Canada, a NATO-affiliated think-tank where he served as an assistant to the president Julie Lindhout. According to his biography on a newsletter from the Atlantic Council of Canada, Dickson has also been a running instructor and has been involved with Developments in Literacy, a Pakistani aid organization that raises money for children in Pakistan.

A statement from the Atlantic Council of Canada on Thursday said it was not council policy to comment on staff, but it confirmed that Dickson had been an intern with the council from September 29, 2008, until March 27, 2009.

Liu Jianhui said his daughter studied at Beijing City University before moving to Canada. Liu Jianhui is the research director of Communist Party history at the Party School of the Central Committee of CPC, which trains party officials.

Liu Qian's laptop computer, webcam and mobile phone were taken from the apartment the night of the attack, police said. Police said the online chat was on a live streaming camera and was not recorded, though investigators were trying to figure out if there was any way they could recover it.

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Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report from New York.