Nelson Chia, accused of plotting girlfriend's murder, used T-shirt to kill self in Santa Rita Jail

Nelson Chia, 73, is arrested in connection with the murder-for-hire of dentist Lily Xu. Oct. 27, 2022 

The 73-year-old man arrested for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill his girlfriend died by suicide within hours of being taken to Santa Rita Jail by hanging himself with a T-shirt, KTVU has learned.

Nelson Peter Chia was found by deputies on Oct. 28 at 2:08 p.m. with a shirt tied around his neck and the doorknob of an intake cell at the jail, according to an Alameda County Fire incident report

A minute later, firefighters were called to help and they arrived at 2:13 p.m. 

But even though deputies had cut him down and performed CPR, Chia was pronounced dead at 2:30 p.m. that day, the report states. 

Chia had been booked into jail on Oct. 27 about 10 p.m. on suspicion of masterminding a murder-for-hire plot against his longtime girlfriend, dentist Lili Xu. 

He had been in the intake area for a total of 16 hours – a new federal consent decree mandates that people taken into custody spend only eight hours in the intake area. 

Jeff Bornstein, an attorney who is helping to oversee a federal consent decree over Santa Rita Jail, said it's troubling that Chia was in the intake room for so long.

"While we don’t know why Mr. Chia was in an ITR cell for so long, we can tell you that he should not have been,," Bornstein said.  "He also should have been screened by Mental Health before he was housed in any cell.  Making sure that people are safe and not at risk of self-harm is a principle focus of the consent decree."

Bornstein said his firm, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld, has  requested a timeline of events and other materials "to ensure that corrective actions are taken."

Chia was originally booked at Santa Rita Jail, because Oakland police said he hired Hasheem Bason, 33, of Stockton to kill her on Aug. 21 for financial gain. How the two men met and knew each other has not been explained. 

Chia, who sang at Xu's funeral and acted like a grieving boyfriend until his arrest, stood to make at least $1 million from her $14-million empire, police said. 

Bason is now in custody at Santa Rita Jail. He has not yet entered a plea. His defense attorney, Christina Moore, declined comment through the Alameda County Public Defender's Office. 

Chia is one of two men to have died last week at Santa Rita Jail within a span of two days. 

On Sunday, Ali Muhammad, 71, died of "numerous medical ailments," the sheriff's office said in a news release. 

Muhammad had been in jail for allegedly violating a term of his attempted murder charge stemming from Oakland.  Muhammad had been in the hospital since Oct. 24 after suffering a cardiac arrest on the yard. 

Chia and Muhammad's deaths mark the 60th and 61st in-custody deaths at Santa Rita Jail since 2014. Twenty of those deaths have been by suicide. 

 Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez