In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors portrayed Xiubin Mei as a man who turned to violence under threat of losing his job and attempted to kill the owner of an Elk Grove Village restaurant with a meat cleaver.
Defense attorneys, however, claim Mei -- who they say worked 11-hour days, six days a week at the China Bowl restaurant -- acted in self-defense in 2011 after restaurant owner Rui Zhong punched him, bloodying his face and knocking out three teeth.
Police charged Mei, 62, with attempted murder and aggravated battery after they say he used a meat cleaver to attack Zhong, who is also known as Simon, and a female employee who tried to intervene in the altercation which took place around noon on Aug. 15, 2011.
On that day, "Mr. Simon's American dream turned into an American nightmare," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Gerber, who described Mei as a man unable to take criticism.
Zhong nearly lost a finger in the attack, which also resulted in injuries to his ear, face and neck, Gerber said. The woman suffered a head laceration that required between 13 and 15 staples to close.
Defense attorney Michael Solock blamed the woman's injuries on "bad timing," saying she suffered them when she stepped between the men in an attempt to push Zhong away from Mei.
"She had nothing to do with this. She was just trying to do the right thing," said Solock.
Solock said that Mei never intended to hurt the woman and was by her side, trying to assist her, when the police arrived.
Mei also never intended to hurt his boss, Solock said, asking jurors to consider the dispute from Mei's point of view.
With the help of a Cantonese interpreter, Zhong testified that he and Mei had a verbal disagreement in the kitchen of the Chinese carryout over Mei's performance.
"I told him if he continued to work the way he was, there's a possibility of him being fired," said Zhong.
Zhong denied punching, grabbing or manhandling Mei in any way. Zhong said Mei picked up the cleaver without saying a word and made a chopping motion. Zhong also testified that he moved toward Mei to try to take the cleaver away.
Mei dropped the cleaver when Elk Grove police arrived minutes later and pointed their guns at him, Zhong said.
If convicted of the most serious charge of attempted murder, Mei could face up to 30 years in prison.
Testimony resumes Wednesday in Rolling Meadows.