After more than six hours of deliberations, a jury failed to reach a verdict Thursday in the case of former cook Xiubin Mei, who authorities say used a meat cleaver to attack his boss at the China Bowl restaurant in Elk Grove Village.
Mei is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery. If convicted of the most serious charge, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
In closing arguments, his attorney insisted the 62-year-old Chicago man acted in his own defense.
Prosecutors rejected that claim, saying when Mei hoisted the knife he did so out of anger, not fear.
"He wasn't fearful of being killed. He was angry at being disrespected," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Crowe told the jury, characterizing Aug. 15, 2011, as "Xiubin Mei's personal day of rage."
What began as an argument between China Bowl owner Rui Zhong and Mei, a seven-year employee, ended with Zhong nearly losing an ear and a finger in the attack, which also left him with a superficial cut on his neck, "a millimeter away from a slit throat," Crowe said.
Crowe began his closing argument with a clatter, dropping the heavy blade onto the lectern in front of the jury.
A female co-worker at the restaurant, who intervened when the altercation escalated, suffered a scalp laceration that required 13 to 15 staples to close. Both recovered from their wounds.
Defense attorney Barry Spector said his client never intended to kill anyone, especially not the woman who drove him daily from his Chinatown home to the restaurant.
Crowe countered that "intent to kill is something that can be found in an instant ... the time it takes to pull a trigger or slam a cleaver down on someone's head."
Mei claims Zhong fired him for working too slow, ordered him to leave and then punched him twice in the face, bloodying his nose and loosening two teeth.
Mei testified that he grabbed the knife to scare Zhong because he feared Zhong was going to punch him again.
"You see how big he is. You heard his voice. You know how quiet he is. You see how much he weighs," said Spector, referring to the slightly built, 130-pound defendant, who is smaller in stature than the younger Zhong.
In closing, Spector urged jurors to keep emotion out of their deliberations, which he acknowledged is difficult in light of the injuries to the woman, who tried to play peacemaker.
Spector also asked jurors to consider not what they might have done, but whether Mei "reasonably believed his life was in danger."
"He did what he had to do to defend himself at that moment in time," Spector said.
Nonsense, exclaimed Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Gerber.
"As complicated and difficult as Mr. Mei wants to make this case, it is not complicated, it is not difficult," said Gerber. "It was a simple case of rage."
"This wasn't a fight. This wasn't a battle. It was an attack," said Gerber, who suggested it was a miracle nothing worse happened that day.
"If the police hadn't shown up when they did, we might be asking you to find him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder."
Jury deliberations continue Friday in Rolling Meadows.