2017-04-26 / Front Page

Pennsylvania Man Charged In Whitestone Teen Slash

By Liz Goff
A Pennsylvania man accused of slashing a 16-year-old Chinese exchange student’s face in December 2015 has been extradited to New York and arraigned on assault, conspiracy and other charges, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

A second individual was previously arraigned on felony charges in connection with his alleged involvement in the attack, Brown said.

Devon Berkley, 38, of Allentown, Pennsylvania was extradited last week and arraigned on an indictment charging him with multiple counts of assault, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal possession of a weapon, along with multiple counts of rape and criminal sexual act, criminal mischief, aggravated mischief and harassment. If convicted, Berkley faces up to 2 years in prison.

Brown said Berkley’s co-defendant, Wilson Lai, 25, of Oakland Gardens, Queens, was arraigned in May 2016, charged with multiple counts of assault, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal possession of a weapon, along with multiple counts of rape and criminal sexual act, criminal mischief, aggravated mischief and harassment. If convicted, Lai faces up to 32 years in prison.

The attack that disfigured the young student appeared to be a twisted act of violence, until the man behind the crime gave cops the break they needed to bring him and his hired hit man to justice, authorities said.

Detectives at the 109th Precinct Squad arrested Lai on May 26, 2016 and charged him with hiring Berkley to attack another girl Lai had a sexual relationship with, Brown said. Lai had a one-year sexual relationship with the girl, starting in June 2013, when she was 14-years old, Brown said.

“Thereafter, it is alleged that Lai and Berkley conspired in December 2015 to assault the teenager,” Brown said. On December 16, 2015, Berkley mistook the Chinese exchange student – who lived in the same residence and was the same age as the intended target – for the target and surprised her as she walked to school, slashing her twice, leaving two long scars on the left side of her face, Brown said.

Jia Jia Liang, 16, was walking to classes at the Whitestone Academy on the morning of the attack when Berkley suddenly jogged up behind her, Brown said. Berkley attacked the girl with a box cutter, slashing the left 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.

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

It is unclear how much Lai may have paid Berkley for carrying out the attack, a law enforcement source said.

Detectives at the 109th Precinct Squad hit the ground hard following the attack and 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, 2015, police officials said. The attacker disappeared behind a tree and then sprinted away, leaving a bloodied box cutter on the street near the attack.

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. “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 109 Squad matched handwriting on the note with Lai’s handwriting, police officials said. “That broke open the case.”  

“Today’s defendant (Berkley) is accused of participating with another man in a heinous crime to physically assault a teenage girl without warning or provocation,” Brown said. “In what can only be described as a sick twist of fate, the victim slashed was actually a victim of mistaken identity. Now, for the rest of her life the victim must bear the physical and emotional scars brought about by the defendants’ alleged mistaken actions.”

Lai is being held without bail at the Brooklyn Detention Center. Berkley was held without bail at his arraignment at Queens Supreme Court.


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