Prosecution included questionable witnesses, racial stereotype, in 2000 arson trial of Dale Chu

The Fire

A man stands in front of a food truck
On Jan. 4, 1998, So’s Dry Cleaners and Laundry, the business owned by Dale Chu’s family in Appleton, Wis., was destroyed by fire, and nearly two years later, CHU was prosecuted for arson by Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic. Although convicted, Chu has always maintained his innocence. He is seen here outside the food truck he now operates, Miss Kim’s Mobile Kitchen, in Chesapeake, Va., on March 16, 2022. Stephen Katz/Wisconsin Watch

Episode 1 Transcript

In the spring of 1999, Dale Chu was just about to graduate from high school in Appleton, Wisconsin. His parents had lost their income and their home after the family’s dry cleaning business went up in flames the year before. So he was crashing on friends’ couches.

Chu had been in and out of trouble for years. Truancy, driving without a license, disorderly conduct. And that spring, he learned that he was going to be a father.

“That’s where, I guess for me, my life really started spiraling out of control,” he says.

In October of that year, Chu was picked up for selling cocaine.

“And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m, I mean, I screwed up big time.’ You know, like huge, I mean, I’m facing a felony here,” Chu recalls.

Whenever he had faced charges in the past, Chu would take the plea deal.

“Why would I ever go to trial and face more time instead of taking the deal? I’m guilty, I did it,” Chu says. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, give me the lowest amount of sentence you’re going to give me because I was bad.’”

Chu was spending his nights in jail and his days as an assistant manager of a gas station as part of a work-release program in early December 1999 when two police officers showed up at his work. They handcuffed him and read him his rights.

The whole thing seemed like a bad joke.

Chu was charged with arson for the fire at his family’s business. A judge set his bond at $10,000.

“Are you kidding?” he recalls thinking. “This isn’t even, this isn’t even — I didn’t do this.”