Expert: Bullet that killed Xiaopeng ‘Pippen’ Yuan was similar to bullets recovered from Cameron Isaac’s apartment

Sam Ogozalek | Asst. News Editor

The Springfield Garden Apartments complex on Caton Drive was the location of the alleged murder of Xiaopeng "Pippen" Yuan.

The bullet that killed Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan was “unusually” similar to the bullets authorities later recovered from Cameron Isaac’s apartment, an expert testified Friday.

Matthew Kurimsky, a firearms examiner for Onondaga County who examined evidence following Yuan’s death, said Friday that the ammunition recovered from Yuan’s body was a type of projectile he had never previously seen — something he found striking when he realized the bullet closely resembled ammunition recovered from Isaac’s apartment.

Isaac, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in connection to Yuan’s death. He’s on trial this week along with his nephew Ninimbe Mitchell, 20, who is charged with second-degree murder. Prosecutors allege Mitchell acted as an accomplice to Isaac, who is accused of robbing and killing Yuan at the Springfield Garden Apartments complex during a drug deal on Sept. 30. Yuan, of China, was a Syracuse University student.

Kurimsky was the last witness the prosecution called before resting its case Friday, which marked the trial’s fifth day. Kurimsky’s testimony came after Laura Collins, the lead detective on the case, finished a roughly seven-hour testimony spanning two days.

Isaac’s attorney, William Sullivan, called two witnesses to the stand Friday afternoon, both of whom are employees at Springfield Garden Apartments.

Kurimsky said the bullet recovered from Yuan’s body struck him as unusual because of its “semi-jacketed design” and its weight. He said despite having previously worked hundreds of cases in his lab at The Wallie Howard Jr. Center For Forensic Sciences, he had never seen “any ammunition like this in the past.”

Kurimsky said the bullet was especially similar, though, to the ammunition authorities recovered from Isaac’s apartment when they searched it in November.

“It caught my eye when I saw those similarities,” he said during testimony.

On cross-examination, Graeme Spicer — who is assisting Sullivan in defending Isaac — asked Kurimsky whether he could say with “absolute certainty” whether the bullet that killed Yuan was the same type of bullet that was recovered from Isaac’s apartment. Kurimsky said he could not.

Earlier on Friday, during cross-examination of Collins, Sullivan presented several text messages that Yuan sent to people regarding drug deals not long before his death. In one, he texted a person with a 315 area code about having “10 gs,” or 10 grams of marijuana. In another text, a person with a 562 area code told Yuan that he shorted him during a sale.

Sullivan’s argument in the trial is that Yuan was a dangerous drug dealer who, as a result, may have given others motive to kill him.

Sullivan also presented text messages that Yuan sent on the morning of the day he died to multiple people about selling them marijuana.

“Mr. Yuan got up on (Sept. 30) and got to work, selling marijuana,” Sullivan said during the cross-examination. “Didn’t he?”

Sullivan also pressed Collins on the number of times that Yuan had visited the Springfield Garden Apartments prior to his death. Collins said her investigation revealed he hadn’t previously been there.

After the prosecution rested its case Friday afternoon, Sullivan called the defense’s first two witnesses to the stand: Jeffrey Demperio and John Johnson. Both Demperio and Johnson work at the Springfield Garden Apartments.

Demperio testified that he had seen an Asian male whom he believed to be Yuan on Sept. 30, prior to Yuan’s death. He said Friday that he had seen that same Asian male in the complex on three separate occasions before Sept. 30, beginning about a month earlier.

On cross-examination, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick asked Demperio whether he had any way to know that the Asian male was indeed Yuan. Demperio said he believed it was. Fitzpatrick then asked Demperio whether he told authorities that the male was wearing glasses, which he said he did. Yuan was not wearing glasses when he was found dead.

Johnson, the other Springfield Garden Apartments employee to testify, said he had seen Yuan’s black Chevrolet Camaro at the apartment complex twice before Sept. 30. He said it was recognizable because of the hood of its car was memorable.

On cross-examination, Fitzpatrick asked Johnson whether anything about the back of the car ever stood out to him. Johnson said he didn’t remember anything unusual. Yuan’s car had a license plate that read “SWAG PIP” — something the defense has pointed to as evidence that he was a vain drug dealer who likely developed enemies and rivals that may have had motive to kill him.

The trial resumes Monday at 9:15 a.m., when the defense will call its third witness.


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