BY BRIANNA ELLIS AND ROBERT POZARYCKI
Oakland Gardens’ Wilson Lai, 25, is accused of hiring Pennsylvania resident Devon Berkley, 36, to attack the 16-year-old girl with whom he had a sexual relationship two years earlier. But prosecutors said Berkley attacked a 16-year-old Chinese foreign exchange student, who bore a resemblance to the intended target.
Lai and Berkley were arrested Thursday as a result of an lengthy investigation by the 109th Precinct Detective Squad. Lai is currently awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court, while Berkley was taken into custody in Allentown, PA, and is awaiting extradition.
“In an alleged case of mistaken identity, an innocent victim who was merely walking to school was slashed in the face by [Berkley] without warning or provocation,” Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said in a statement on Thursday. “For the rest of her life, she must bear the physical and emotional scars of that attack.”
The attack — which rocked the Whitestone community and led to public pleas for help in finding the suspect responsible — occurred at 8:16 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 16, 2015, near the intersection of 14th Street and 13th Avenue.
Prior to the assault, Lai allegedly recruited and hired Berkley to assault a young girl with whom he had a yearlong sexual relationship two years prior. The young girl was 14 years old at the time of their tryst and lived in Whitestone.
On the day of the assault, police said, Berkley allegedly ran up to the victim — whom he apparently believed was the intended target — and sliced her twice in the face before fleeing the scene. The victim was treated for injuries that left two scars on the left side of her face.
Lai and two unidentified co-conspirators allegedly vandalized a car belonging to the intended target’s family on Jan. 4 of this year, puncturing the tires and damaging the body. The attackers allegedly left a note which stated that the wrong girl was attacked, but the intended target would be assaulted next.
Both Lai and Berkley were indicted on 19 charges including first- and second-degree assault, fourth-degree conspiracy, endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. For his underage tryst, Lai was additionally charged with second- and third-degree rape, second-and third-degree criminal sexual act, endangering the welfare of a child, third-degree criminal mischief, second-degree aggravated mischief and second-degree harassment.
If convicted, Berkley faces up to 25 years in prison, while Lai faces up to 32 years in prison.
Below is a surveillance video that shows the incident; the suspect identified as Berkley is seen wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with a black hood and black stripes on the sleeves.