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Murder for hire of Oakland dentist suspect Nelson Chia dies in prison

OAKLAND, Calif. — A 73-year-old man arrested on suspicion of hiring someone to kill his longtime girlfriend, a prominent San Francisco Bay area dentist, killed himself when he was in custody, authorities said.

The fatal shooting of Lili Xu, 60, last August in Oakland was believed at the time to be a robbery that ended in homicide. But this week, investigators alleged Nelson Chia hired 33-year-old Hasheem Bason to kill Xu.

Both men were arrested on Thursday for murder, the Bay Area News Group reported. The next day, Chia was found dead in a holding cell at Santa Rita Jail, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

The murder drew attention both because of Xu’s prominence in the Oakland Chinatown community and because of fears of anti-Asian violence, stoked by past hate crimes in the Bay Area.

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a news conference Friday that as investigators investigated the case, it “didn’t appear to be a typical robbery-related murder…something seemed not to work”.

“It’s not about race or hate,” Armstrong said, “it’s about greed.” He did not specify the possible financial motive behind the crime.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said before Chia’s death became known that her murder charge would include a special enhancement of seeking financial gain as a result of the murder.

It was unclear on Saturday whether Bason, of Stockton, had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. He was held without bond and is expected to be arraigned next week.

Investigators believe Bason fired the gun that killed Xu on Aug. 21 in an Oakland neighborhood where she and Chia went to visit a spa. According to initial reports, a suspect got out of a car and attempted to steal her purse from Xu before shooting her and fleeing in the vehicle. Chia was not injured.

Xu, who came to the United States from Shanghai in 1995, had lived in the area for decades and ran dental practices in Oakland’s Chinatown and the Castro Valley, according to the Bay Area News Group.

She and Chia had been partners for over a decade and had lived together in a house in the hills of Oakland.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free, confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

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