2016-06-01 / Features

DA: Jilted Thug Hired Whitestone Slasher For Revenge

BY LIZ GOFF

The slashing of a Chinese exchange student on December 16 appeared to be a twisted act of violence, until the man behind the attack gave cops the break they needed to bring him to justice.

Detectives at the 109th Precinct Squad arrested Wilson Lai, 25, of Oakland Gardens, on May 26, who is accused of hiring Devon Berkley, 37, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, to attack a girl Lai had a sexual relationship with, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Lai had a one-year sexual relationship with the girl, starting in June 2013, when she was 14 years old, Brown said.

Detectives at the NYPD Fugitive Enforcement Division arrested Berkley on May 24 in Pennsylvania, Brown said.

Lai and Berkley were charged in a Queens County indictment that alleges they conspired to assault the girl. But Berkley mistook the exchange student for his intended victim and attacked her instead, Brown said.

Jia Jia Liang, 16, was walking to classes at the Whitestone Academy on the morning of December 16 when Berkley suddenly jogged up behind her, Brown said. Berkley attacked the girl with a box cutter, slashing the right side of her face from her ear to her throat, and then slashed her neck before running away, Brown said.

Liang was taken to Cohen’s Children’s Hospital, where doctors used more than 200 stitches to close the deep gashes in her face and neck. The teen has undergone multiple surgeries and still suffers from scarring on her face, police said. “She is facing additional surgeries to help remove the scarring,” a police source said.

Liang arrived in Queens from China in August 2015, and had been staying with relatives who lived just blocks from the scene of the attack, Brown said. “An innocent victim who was merely walking to school was slashed in the face by one of the defendants without warning or provocation,” Brown said. The attack was a case of mistaken identity that left the teen severely scarred, he explained. “For the rest of her life she must bear the physical and emotional scars of that attack.”

Berkley never bothered to learn who he was targeting, a police source said. “The two girls lived in the same house and they were the same age,” the source said. “Berkley attacked the first Asian teenager he saw coming from the home.”

Berkley is being held by police in Pennsylvania, pending the outcome of an extradition hearing that was scheduled for May 31. It is unclear how much Lai may have paid Berkley for carrying out the attack, police said.

Detectives at the 109th Precinct Squad hit the ground hard following the attack, police officials said. Investigators recovered “substantial evidence at the scene, along with surveillance footage that showed the attacker, wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt and surgical mask, jogging behind Liang as she walked near the intersection of 147th Street and 13th Avenue in Whitestone on December 16, police officials said. The attacker disappeared behind a tree, and then sprinted away, leaving a bloodied box cutter on the street near the attack, police said.

Three weeks later, a birthday card appeared on the windshield of a car owned by the mother of the intended victim, police said. In a handwritten note inside the card, the author admitted that Liang was slashed by mistake – and warned the 14- year-old that he would return to cut her up, police said. “Your beautiful face will soon be gone,” the note read. “I know a lot about you b---h. Stop being a slut. You f----d with the wrong person,” the author wrote.

Detectives at the 109th Squad matched handwriting on the note with Lai’s handwriting, a police source said. “That broke open the case.”

Lai and Berkley were charged in State Supreme Court with assault as a criminal sex act, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a weapon. Lai was also charged with multiple counts of rape, criminal mischief and harassment.

The indictment also alleges that Lai and two unindicted co-conspirators punctured three tires, poured glue on the passenger and driver’s side windows and damaged the body of the mother’s car.

Police sources said investigators believe Berkley traveled from Pennsylvania to Queens to carry out the bloody attack. “He cut the girl and ran,” the sources said. NYPD officials said Berkley would be formally charged in the attack “as soon as he arrives back in Queens.”

Lai was held without bail pending his arraignment on May 31. He faces up to 32 years in prison, if convicted. Berkley, who has a history of nine prior arrests, is facing up to 25 years in prison, if convicted.

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