By Mark Hallum
Two men were sentenced to “lengthy” prison terms after pleading guilty to slashing a teenage girl’s face in Whitestone as she walked to school in 2015, according to the Queens DA.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called the “heinous attack” something that would affect the Chinese exchange student’s life forever and was vocal in his praise of the nearly two decade-long sentences the two men received Feb. 14.
Wilson Lai, 26, of Oakland Gardens, admitted in January to hiring Pennsylvania resident Devon Berkley, 39, to attack his underage girlfriend, who lived in the same place as the victim, 16-year-old JiaJia Liang. Liang was not the intended target of the attack, but received two cuts across the face.
“Last month, the two defendants in this case pleaded guilty to brutally attacking a teenage girl,” Brown said. “The victim in this case was not the intended target, but nonetheless she will have to live with the pain of the slashing for the rest of her life — as well as the permanent scars that remain visible on her face. The defendants have now been sentenced and will be incarcerated for a very long time as punishment for their crime and to protect society.”
Lai received 19 years in prison while Berkley, who had to be extradited from Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 18 years, the DA said.
Liang was on her way to school when her face was abruptly slashed twice by Berkley, according to Brown, and still bears the scars. The wounds required hospitalization and up to 200 stitches, the DA said.
Liang was attending the Whitestone Academy while staying with a host family when the attack happened.
“In pleading guilty, the defendants have admitted to a heinous attack on a teenage girl,” Brown said in January following the guilty plea. “The victim in this case was not the target, but nonetheless she will forever be marred by the memory of what happened to her and the scars on her face. The defendants in the case deserve to be incarcerated as punishment for their crime.”
Lai was arrested in June 2016, and Berkley was later extradited from Pennsylvania.
Lt. Timothy Thompson of the 109th Precinct said at a 2016 news conference that Lai was facing multiple counts of rape, assault, criminal sex act, criminal mischief, conspiracy, acting in a manner injurious to a child, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.
The rape charges were filed because of the sexual nature of Lai’s relationship with the intended victim, Thompson said in 2016.
At a January 2016 news conference held by Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) attended by Liang and her mother who traveled from China, the youth said she had plans to stay in the United States throughout high school and college with her student visa.
An immigration lawyer was assisting Liang at the time of the attack to obtain a U visa, a special designation for the victims of crimes.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall