Denise Yee Grim looks over panels on the Vincent Chin murder that were part of an exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
Ronald Ebens says he's a tired old man now.
At 72, he lives in arid Henderson, Nev., far from Metro Detroit and the fatal beating he committed here 30 years ago this week.
Ebens, an autoworker, saw Vincent Chin as a symbol of Japan's rise and Detroit's decline in the car industry and swung a baseball bat at the Chinese-American's skull on a Highland Park street while his stepson, Michael Nitz, held Chin down.
Four days after the attack on June 19, 1982, Chin, 27, of Oak Park died of his injuries.
The attack sparked a civil rights movement that galvanized Asian-Americans across the country.
Ebens, reached by phone at his home this week, says he regrets the attack.
"It was an unfortunate incident and should never have happened," he said. "I'm sorry it happened."
Asked how he's doing now, he responds casually. "I'm hanging in there," he said. "But I'm getting tired. I'm an old man."
Ebens, who lived in what's now Eastpointe, never served a day in jail. Instead, he and Nitz were given three years' probation and each fined $3,720, after they pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of manslaughter.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman, now deceased, could have given them up to 15 years in prison. But during sentencing, he said, "These are not the kind of men you put in jail."
Thirty years have not eased the hurt and anger still palpable among friends, family and activists who fought tirelessly for years for Vincent Chin's justice.
"Even if you kill a dog, you get some kind of sentence," said Lewis Lee, 50, of Farmington Hills, a cousin of Chin. "I still feel bad about it, because Vincent never received justice, even though we gathered together as a community seeking it."
They're still waiting.
"I'm sure Ebens is upset it happened," said Curtis Chin, a family friend of Vincent Chin who was born and raised in Detroit, and whose family owned the popular Chung's restaurant on Peterboro and Cass in the heart of old Chinatown.
He now lives in Hollywood as a writer/producer, and released the documentary, "Vincent Who?" in 2009 (www.vincentwhomovie.com).
"But he meant to do harm because he went and got that bat out of his trunk," Curtis Chin said. "He just can't bring himself to say I'm sorry.
"He's never taken responsibility. But even if he did, there's nothing the legal system can do now. The trial is over."
Chin and the attack that killed him are being remembered this week with events around Metro Detroit, including a commemoration starting at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Chinese Community Center in Madison Heights.
Among those planning to attend is Denise Yee Grim, a friend of Chin's and the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce in Rochester Hills.
She and Chin became friends when they were teens and part of Metro Detroit's close-knit Chinese community.
"We used to hang out together as friends, but mostly, we enjoyed reading Marvel comics together," Grim recalled. "He was sensitive and compassionate, and just a really good guy."
She said Chin's death shocked people who had never met him. "But for me, it was emotional and personal, because he was my friend."
After the event at the Madison Heights center, a graveside visit is planned for 3 p.m. in Detroit's Forest Lawn Cemetery, where Chin is buried along with his mother and father.
Chin's death and the lenient sentences for his attackers sparked outrage and launched a national Asian-American civil rights movement.
It also prompted discussion of legal reforms in Michigan, culminating in the passage of the Crime Victims Rights Act in 1985 and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.
The day Chin was attacked began as a celebration. He was to be married that week and wanted one last night out as a bachelor.
Chin was studying mechanical engineering at Lawrence Tech and working two jobs to buy a house for his fiancee, Vickie Wong, who worked at a Farmington Hills insurance company.
He told his mother about his plans. Lily Chin, who had lost her husband, Hing (Ben) Chin, six months earlier, suggested that her only child not go out that night.
But Chin and his three buddies did go out, hitting a couple of bars before ending the evening at the Fancy Pants, a topless/bottomless bar in Highland Park.
Ebens, then 42, and Nitz, then 23, also were at the bar.
News accounts from that night indicate that Chin ran down Woodward when Ebens reached into his trunk for the bat.
Ebens and Nitz drove around looking for Chin until they saw him and friend Jimmy Choi outside a McDonald's.
They jumped out of the car, Nitz held Chin down and Ebens swung the bat.
Chin lapsed into a coma on a dirty sidewalk near the McDonald's.
Choi cradled his friend. "It's not fair" were the last words Chin uttered in his native language.
His mom, Lily Chin, died broken-hearted in 2002 at the age of 82.