Chemist accused of poisoning husband to death

/ Source: The Associated Press

A former chemist killed her estranged husband by poisoning him with a "lethal and massive dose" of a highly toxic metal that a nurse's sharp eye helped identify, authorities said Wednesday.

Tianle Li, a former employee of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., pleaded not guilty to murdering Xiaoye Wang by poisoning him with thallium, and hindering prosecution. The plea was entered by her attorney, and Li did not speak during the brief arraignment Wednesday afternoon in front of state Superior Court Judge Michael Toto.

"The state's allegation is that the defendant administered a lethal and massive dose to the victim and caused his death," Deputy First Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Nicholas Sewitch said.

Sewitch declined to say how much poison was administered and over what period of time, citing the ongoing investigation and incomplete toxicology tests. Thallium was once used in rat poison, he said.

According to the prosecutor's office, Wang, who worked for a computer software company in New York, checked into Princeton Medical Center on Jan. 14 suffering from what appeared to be the flu or some other virus. When his condition worsened, the hospital began to conduct routine tests but didn't suspect thallium until a nurse remembered a case involving thallium poisoning in China in the 1990s, Sewitch said.

The 39-year-old Wang had lapsed into a coma by then and died on Jan. 26.

"By the time it was discovered, it was really too late to treat him," Sewitch said.

Li had worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb as a chemist for 10 years, company spokesman Fred Egenolf said. The New York-based pharmaceutical has several facilities in central New Jersey, though Egenolf wouldn't say where Li worked. However, Sewitch said Li could have had access to the substance at her job. He declined to say where prosecutors believe she obtained it.

Sewitch and Li's attorney, Steven Altman, confirmed reports that several calls were made to police over the last year or two regarding domestic disturbances at the house Li and Wang shared in Monroe Township. None of the calls involved any "serious or significant injuries," Sewitch said.

The couple's 2-year-old son is in the custody of the state Division of Youth and Family Services, Sewitch said. The agency doesn't comment on individual cases. An aunt was living at Li's house when Wang died but is not suspected of any wrongdoing, Sewitch said.

Altman told Toto he will seek to have Li's $4 million bail on the murder charge reduced. Her bail on the hindering charge is $150,000.