Vincent Chin died 33 years ago, an injustice still; Ronald Ebens, Chin’s killer, still owes millions to the Chin estate.
On June 23, 1982, Vincent Chin died in a Detroit area hospital after efforts to revive him failed. Four days before, on June 19, the night of his bachelor party, Chin suffered a brutal blow to the head with a baseball bat in the hands of Ronald Ebens.
I have tried to get back in touch with Ebens to find out what’s happening with him–more on that later in this piece.For now, I assume that Ebens, now 75, stands by what he told me three years ago in an exclusive interview.
Ebens said then that the whole incident wasn’t about race, but was due to a sucker-punch from Chin; that he’s sorry it all escalated, and for what happened.But that still doesn’t explain away the result.One Asian American–Chin–is dead.
Ebens was allowed to plea bargain in a Michigan court to escape mandatory jail time for second degree murder. Ebens pleaded guilty; Michael Nitz, his stepson accomplice, pleaded nolo contendere. Both men got this sentence: three years’ probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.That’s what you get for killing an Asian American in Michigan in the ’80s.Ebens was convicted in a subsequent federal civil rights trial, but that was reversed on appeal. He was later cleared of all charges in a second trial.
The upshot–Ebens has never served any jail time for killing Chin.And the civil judgment against him in Michigan that orders him to pay the Chin estate?Ebens has virtually ignored it by claiming poverty and eluding collection efforts.The bill by now is at or near $10 million, and not a dime has been paid.“It was ridiculous then, it’s ridiculous now,” Ebens said defiantly in my exclusive interview with him three years ago. It remains one of the rare times Ebens has talked about the entire situation:
“It should never have happened,” Ebens told me over the phone. “And it had nothing to do with the auto industry or Asians or anything else. Never did, never will. I could have cared less about that. That’s the biggest fallacy of the whole thing.”That night at the strip club, after some harsh words were exchanged, Ebens said Chin stood up and came around to the other side of the stage. “He sucker-punched me and knocked me off my chair. That’s how it started.
I didn’t even know he was coming,” Ebens said.Chin’s friends testified that Ebens made racial remarks, mistaking Chin to be Japanese. And then when Chin got into a shoving match, Ebens threw a chair at him but struck Nitz instead.But Ebens’ version that there was no racial animosity or epithets is actually supported by testimony from Chin’s friend, Jimmy Choi, who apologized to Ebens for Chin’s behavior that included Chin throwing a chair and injuring Nitz.What about the baseball bat and how Ebens and Nitz followed Chin to a nearby McDonald’s?Ebens said when all parties were asked to leave the strip club, they were out in the street. It’s undisputed that Chin egged Ebens to fight on.“The first thing he said to me is ‘You want to fight some more?‘” Ebens recalled. “Five against two is not good odds,” said Ebens, who declined to fight.
Then later, when Chin and his friends left, Ebens’ stepson went to get a baseball bat from his car.(Ironically, it was a Jackie Robinson model). Ebens said he took it away from Nitz because he didn’t want anyone taking it from him and using it on them.But then Ebens said his anger got the best of him and he drove with Nitz to find Chin, finally spotting him at the nearby McDonald’s.“That’s how it went down,” Ebens said. “If he hadn’t sucker punched me in the bar… nothing would have ever happened.
They forced the issue. And from there after the anger built up, that’s where things went to hell.”Ebens calls it “the gospel truth.”But he says he’s cautious speaking now because he doesn’t want to be seen as shifting the blame. “I’m as much to blame,” he sadly admitted. “I should’ve been smart enough to just call it a day. After they started to disperse, it was time to get in the car and go home.”At the McDonald’s where the blow that led to Chin’s death actually occurred, Ebens’ memory is more selective.
To this day, he even wonders about hitting Chin with the bat. “I went over that a hundred, maybe 1,000 times in my mind the last 30 years. It doesn’t make sense of any kind that I would swing a bat at his head when my stepson is right behind him. That makes no sense at all.”And then he quickly added, almost wistfully, “I don’t know what happened.”
Later in the interview, Ebens told me that when he thinks about Chin, no images come to mind. “It just makes me sick to my stomach, that’s all,” he said, thinking about all the lives that were wrecked, both Chin’s and his own.By the end of our conversation, Ebens still wasn’t sure he wanted me to tell his story. “It will only alienate people,” he said. “Why bother? I just want to be left alone and live my life.” Ebens has been left alone in his new state of residence, Nevada, where he has eluded the monetary judgment against him in the Chin case, which amounted to $8 million when I spoke to him three years ago.No payments have been made since, yet Ebens has come into some money, according to a quick look at the public records.In 2013, Ebens was named an executor of a close friend’s estate.
The friend’s wife had just won a $4+ million court settlement in a personal injury suit, with 3 percent going to her husband.Ebens’ share as the executor could be worth $120,000.More a scratch-off than a MegaMillions win. But shouldn’t Chin’s estate have gotten some sliver of that from Ebens?Ebens did not respond to my recent request for an interview.At this point, the judgment remains one way to secure justice for Vincent Chin.The least we can do as a community is to remind Ebens that he has yet to pay off his moral debt for the killing of Vincent Chin.
The full post on Emil Guillermo’s 2012 interview with Ronald Ebens can be read here.