Ming Ming Cheung felt she was living in something close to hell when she came to the United States from Hong Kong in 1989.
Transplanted from a metropolis of 5 million people to a Southern town and speaking no English, Cheung had to build a life that revolved entirely around the kitchen of her new husband’s restaurant. But even in the midst of hardship, she could count on her husband, Jone Cheung, for a sympathetic word.
“He loved me so much. Even though we were poor, if I needed anything he would try to get it for me,” she said.
That changed May 30, 2009, when Jone Cheung was shot to death behind the counter of his restaurant, House of Cheung King of Wings on Milledgeville Road.
“I had nobody to talk to, nobody to share my anger, my happiness,” Cheung said.
Last week, Georgia Supreme Court justices unanimously rejected the appeal of the shooter, Michael Eugene Williams. His attorneys sought to portray him as an emotionally fragile 20-year-old who fired the fatal shot out of panic.
It’s a small relief for Cheung, but it doesn’t change her circumstances.
Cheung was 30 when a family friend from the United States came to Hong Kong looking for a bride. Her mother urged her to take the opportunity, even though she had just met Jone Cheung. He wasn’t handsome, but he was her age and she could sense his kindness and respected his honesty. With a promise that she could come home if things went sour, Cheung traveled to Augusta to start her new life.
The wedding was quick; the reception a simple meal of fried chicken. She transitioned immediately into a six-day work week, 12 hours a day, taking orders at the restaurant, which belonged at the time to her father-in-law. She was miserable that year, but time and her resiliency pulled her through.
In 2009, Cheung and her husband were still scraping by, but they had settled into a peaceful rhythm. After years of sacrifice, they were looking forward to a trip to Hawaii in December for their 20th anniversary.
Business was slow the night of May 30. Cheung was home packing for a trip to Hong Kong, and she urged her husband over the phone to close early. If he were was robbed, all the day’s work would be for naught, she said.
He took her advice, but as he flipped over the “open” sign later that night, two patrons appeared at the door. His decision to unlock the door was characteristic of a man always eager for a customer, Cheung said.
According to evidence presented at the trial, while Williams slipped into the bathroom to pull on a green bandana and skull cap, Susan Inglett put a dollar on the counter for a cup of the restaurant’s famous “Jone’s tea.”
While Cheung was distracted, Williams came out of the bathroom and pointed a gun at him.
What happened next shocked all the restaurant regulars, including Amy Reyes, who had known Jone Cheung since she was 8. When she heard the shot, Reyes rushed from the trailer park behind the restaurant. She couldn’t get in, but she peeked through a window and saw Cheung on the floor.
“I just wondered why,” Reyes said. “Why Jone? Why this place? Why in general?”
Everyone seemed to be crying, including the paramedics, as word of his death spread through the neighborhood, Reyes said.
Cheung continues to take her husband’s death one day at a time. Her two children are college-age now and she’s supporting them, along with her aging father-in-law. She traded the stress of the restaurant to a leaser and works another full-time job.
Forgiveness for Williams has not arrived. She last saw him at sentencing in January 2011 and said she detected no remorse in his smile or relaxed body language.
It’s just one more burden Cheung carries, Reyes said.
“It’s been rough on her, but she tries to keep her head up,” she said.