2018-01-17 / Front Page

Pair Plead Guilty In ‘Wrong Teen’ Slash-Assault

By Liz Goff
Two men charged with the violent slashing of a teenage exchange student in December 2015 pleaded guilty on January 9th to first-degree assault, saying the victim was attacked in a case of mistaken identity.

Devon Berkley, 39, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who was extradited to Queens and 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.

Berkley’s co-defendant, Wilson Lai, 26, of Oakland Gardens, Queens, was facing 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.

Berkley and Lau pleaded guilty to first-degree assault on January 8 before Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak, who indicated he would sentence the pair on February 14, Valentines Day. Lasak said at that time he will sentence Berkley to 18-years in prison, and Lau will receive a 19-year sentence. The sentences will be followed by five years post release supervision, Lasak said.

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, prosecutors said. Lai had a one-year sexual relationship with the intended victim, starting in June 2013, when she was 14-years old, according to prosecutors.

“Thereafter, it is alleged that Lai and Berkley conspired in December 2015 to assault the teenager,” Queens District Attorney Richard 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.

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 underwent multiple surgeries and still suffers from scarring on her face.

Berkley never bothered to learn whom he was targeting, prosecutors said. “The two girls lived in the same house and they were the same age, 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, prosecutors 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, prosecutors 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.” 

“In pleading guilty, the defendants have admitted to a heinous attack on a teenage girl, Brown said. “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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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