Ex-scholarship holder gets probation

A court bailiff giving former Stanford student Ouyang Xiangyu instructions after her sentencing. She pleaded "no contest" to four counts of poisoning her former laboratory mates at the university.
A court bailiff giving former Stanford student Ouyang Xiangyu instructions after her sentencing. She pleaded "no contest" to four counts of poisoning her former laboratory mates at the university.ST PHOTO: JEREMY AU YONG

Former Agency for Science, Technology and Research scholarship holder Ouyang Xiangyu, 27, was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to complete 176 days of community service last Friday, after pleading "no contest" to four counts of poisoning.

At the Palo Alto Courthouse, Judge Vincent Chiarello said he had considered character references from her church, psychological evaluation reports, and statements from the victims about their current physical and mental conditions as a consequence of the poisoning.

He added that the court understands Ouyang is currently responding to treatment and medication, but no details were revealed about her current mental health.

Ouyang, who appeared sombre throughout the sentencing, but smiled occasionally when speaking with her family, agreed in court to carry out community service five days a week, starting on Feb 22.

She was also ordered to pay restitution of US$393.21 (S$566) to one of the victims.

A former student of Stanford University, Ouyang was ordered to stay away from the campus, and is to have no contact with the victims, her former laboratory mates at the university, during her probation.

Ouyang's lawyer Jeffrey Hayden told The Sunday Times that his client will now adjust to what the court wants her to do and is "nothing if not trying to please".

He said he believed she had been "treated very fairly" by the court.

Ouyang was arrested on Nov 16, 2014 after poisoning the drinking water of two lab mates between September and November that year.

The lab mates, in court documents, said they experienced a burning sensation in their throats after drinking from their water bottles. There was no serious injury.

One victim, who was present at the sentencing, declined to speak with The Sunday Times.

When questioned by the police, Ouyang said she had been experiencing severe insomnia and dizziness since September 2014 and was not aware of what she was doing.

Ouyang admitted to putting paraformaldehyde in two water bottles belonging to two lab mates but said she never had any personal issues with them and "didn't mean to harm people", according to court documents.

Other Stanford students who spoke last year to this newspaper and knew Ouyang said she was a quiet and shy individual and had seemed stressed by school work.

Ouyang, who has since been expelled from Stanford, had also allegedly sabotaged a lab mate's experiments from mid-August 2014.

Judge Chiarello mentioned that if Ouyang was to be deported, she would have to notify the probation department within five days.

As Ouyang entered the United States as a student, she does not have legal status in the country now.

Mr Hayden said if she intended to leave the US, she should firstask the court for permission. "If she didn't notify the court and just left, she would be in violation of her probation," he said.

Deputy district attorney Anne Seery said Ouyang's actions had been "incredibly serious" and dangerous.

"We have no idea what the lasting effects are and that's what's frightening about this conduct," said Ms Seery.

But she had not pursued jail time for Ouyang as the victims had agreed that it would be better for her to get counselling and therapy.

"This was an unusual case, (I've) definitely never seen anything like it before (and) hope to never see it again," said Ms Seery. "I think it was a fair resolution, it was a good resolution, and all the parties are happy."

Ouyang will need to return to court next month for her firstreview to show she is "complying with probation and continuing with the treatment", said JudgeChiarello.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-scholarship holder gets probation'. Print Edition | Subscribe