Two men were indicted in connection with the slashing of a Chinese exchange student in Queens, New York, who was mistaken for a 14-year-old girl with whom one of the men allegedly had a sexual relationship, the Queens District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
Wilson Lai, 25, and Devon Berkley, 36, were charged in a 19-count indictment, which includes first- and second-degree assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement. The charges stem from the Dec. 16 attack on Jia Jia Liang, a 16-year-old girl who was slashed in the neck and cheek while walking to school.
Lai, who is accused of conspiring with Berkley to carry out the assault, was also indicted on second- and third-degree rape, criminal sexual act, and endangering the welfare of a child, among others charges, in connection with his alleged sexual relationship with the minor, the district attorney said.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory L. Lasak ordered Lai held without bail pending his arraignment, which was scheduled for Tuesday. Berkley was still being held in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he was arrested Thursday morning, and is awaiting extradition, the district attorney said.
Attorneys for the two men was not immediately known, a spokesperson for the Queens district attorney told NBC News.
Liang, who had been in the U.S. for less than a year when she was attacked in December, was on her way to school when Berkley allegedly ran up to her and slashed the teen twice in the face before he fled, according to the district attorney. Liang was the same age and lived in the same residence as the girl with whom Lai allegedly had a one-year sexual relationship beginning in June 2013, when she was 14, the district attorney said.
That girl, and not Liang, was believed to be the intended target, the district attorney said. Liang was hospitalized and received more than 200 stitches. She now has two scars that run along the left side of her face.
Prosecutors also said Lai and two others, who were not charged in the same indictment, acted together on Jan. 4 to puncture the tires and damage the body of a car that belonged to the family of the girl who was the target. A note was allegedly left on the vehicle, saying the wrong girl was assaulted and that the other girl would be next, the district attorney said.
If convicted, Lai faces up to 32 years in prison and Berkley 25 years, Brown said.
Liang’s attack, along with the Nov. 29 stabbing of playwright David Henry Hwang in Brooklyn, raised concerns with some Asian Americans in New York City, who worried that the assaults augured a rise in crime against Asians. Some elected officials, including Assemblyman Ron Kim, who raised funds for Liang, and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), sent letters to city officials voicing these concerns. No arrests have been made in the assault on Hwang.
Kim, whose district includes the neighborhood where Liang was attacked, told NBC News that the teen’s family, with whom he recently spoke, was comforted by news of the arrests. Liang, who still attends school, has since been relocated to a student housing facility and is looking into applying to college, Kim said.
“I feel very relieved and grateful for the persistence of the NYPD in making sure that they followed every lead and most importantly putting Jia Jia and her family at ease,” he said.