Former Stanford student sentenced in poisoning case

Researcher tainted lab mates' water with paraformaldehyde, sabotaged project

Xiangyu Ouyang, a former Stanford University graduate student who poisoned her lab mates' water in 2014, will be allowed to perform community service instead of serving jail time, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiariello ruled on Friday.

Ouyang, 26, of Singapore pleaded no contest to four felony counts of poisoning on Dec. 8. She was arrested on Nov. 11, 2014, for spiking water in her lab mates' bottles with paraformaldehyde at the Stanford School of Medicine's Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building in September 2014, according to court documents. She was expelled from the University and banned from all Stanford properties. She had been a researcher there for three years.

A Singapore National Science Scholar at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Ouyang appeared to be under duress while at Stanford and was unsure of herself, witnesses from the lab told police. She also sabotaged the research of a senior researcher at the lab, according to court documents.

Ouyang faced up to a year in county jail under a plea agreement. Instead, she was sentenced to 180 days in county jail minus four days' credit, but instead she was placed on probation for three years and will perform community service through the Santa Clara County Sheriff's work program.

Under sentencing rules, she will receive half-time credit and must only serve 88 hours in the work program. But she must also follow any mental health treatments ordered by the probation department, including taking psychiatric medication, on which she is currently stabilized. The judge also mandated protective orders barring her from coming within 30 feet of Stanford property and against making any contact with the victims for the three-year period of her probation.

Ouyang also faces potential deportation, and the judge outlined notification requirements to the court that she must follow if she is deported. Her attorney, Jeffrey Hayden, said that she has not been served with any deportation notice.

"If they ask her to leave, I'm sure she would leave," he said.

With some of her victims in the courtroom, Ouyang quietly stood in front of the judge for sentencing. Chiariello said he considered many factors in making his determination, including her mental state, a letter from Ouyang, letters of support from her church, a psychiatric evaluation and two additional memoranda submitted by the probation department. But he also considered statements from three victims in the case, including the state of the victims' serious medical symptoms and unknown future conditions they may have to endure as a result of the poisoning.

"They now have to worry about long-term effects for the rest of their lives," Chiariello said. And, as they wrote in their statements in the probation report, Ouyang "robbed them of their sense of security at Stanford and otherwise," he said.

Ouyang admitted her actions to police. She also said she had started putting dish-washing liquid in her own water at home and drinking it. She progressed to spiking her water with random chemicals she found at the lab, she said.

She told police she did not have animosity toward her colleagues, and there was not a sense of competition as their projects did not overlap. She had insomnia and dizziness and felt a disconnection from reality starting in September, she told police.

The thought of her colleagues drinking the tainted water was "terrifying," she said, but she never checked on their welfare nor warned them. She was crying out for help, she told police, and she was sorry that things went so far.

Ouyang must also pay $393.21 restitution to one of her victims, and the court left a general restitution order open in the event that other victims want to make claims.

Hayden thanked the court and the prosecutor. "Both were very thoughtful in this difficult case," he said.

"The outcome on one level is very fair," he said outside the courtroom. "But there is nobody who really wins today. People are hurt and suffered."

His client was also suffering because of what she had done, he added.

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68 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:55 am

Sentence should have more harsh.

82 people like this
Posted by absurd
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 16, 2016 at 9:56 am

What? little slap on the wrist? She TRIED TO KILL SOMEONE! Who will now have long term medical effects and will probably pay thousands of dollars in healthcare. "His client was also suffering because of what she had done, he added."
Oh please, she needs to take responsibility for her actions. At least give her a few months of jail time and more than just 2 weeks of community service. Her family must have a lot of money to get her out of this one.

59 people like this
Posted by OMG
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

She may be mentally ill, but should still have a Time Out in a cell for at least a few months. And what's with the meager restitution? Shouldn't she have to pay medical bills? Must be some political/financial thing with Singapore.

87 people like this
Posted by community service?
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 16, 2016 at 12:20 pm

My child got community service (plus a fine plus no driver's license for an extra year) for truancy (one day in HS). IMO Ms. Ouyang should have a more severe penalty than my child for her crime of attempted murder.

77 people like this
Posted by Ms. Welss
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2016 at 1:06 pm

She needs to be deported.

2 people like this
Posted by @Palo Alto Online Moderators
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Why hasn't the trolling commentor been banned yet?

67 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:07 pm

They should have sent her back to Singapore for prosecution.
The Singaporeans are really mad at her, because she tarnished the image of Singapore.
[Portion removed.]

75 people like this
Posted by Must be Wealthy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:47 pm

This young woman's parents obviously hired the best lawyer money could buy. How else to explain her unforgivably light sentence and small bit of restitution. Perhaps they paid off the judge, too. This is just too, too soft for attempted murder, especially when one victim suffers permanent harm.

She should have gone to prison for several years and then been deported back to Singapore, where they really don't like PRoC immigrants, and are trying to legislate them out of their country, like Australia has.

19 people like this
Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

@ @Palo Alto Online Moderators:

The problematic poster is using a computer at the library. We have restricted that IP address so that we are flagged to review any comments made, but we don't want to block it entirely because there are many other legitimate posters using the library. It's the best we can do.

21 people like this
Posted by OMG
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

From an Asian newsfeed:

"Deputy district attorney Anne Seery told The Straits Times that she had not pursued jail time for Ouyang as the victims had agreed that it would be better for her to get counseling and therapy."

6 people like this
Posted by @Palo Alto Online Moderators
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Totally understood. Thank you.

41 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Anothe case of affluenza?

8 people like this
Posted by No comment
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 18, 2016 at 11:06 am

After reading PA Online for a while, don't you agree that comment section should not be even available for some of the articles?
That includes this one and other similar about legal proceedings, court trials, and convictions.

Those who have done jury duty might know how difficult is to figure it out sometimes when you are in the court room knowing all details. After reading a few paragraphs not knowing the full picture so many are glad to be "armchair judges, or attorneys, or cops".

Particularly, that applies to allegations where indictment has not happened (not this case, of course). See the recent article on child sexual abuse.

17 people like this
Posted by Caitlin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 18, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Caitlin is a registered user.

Many aspects of this story simply do not ring true in my mind. Very serious crime which took planning and yet perp is not deemed responsible due to mental issues? A vengeful choice but vengefulness dismissed as part of the purpose?
No deportation involvement in solution?
Sounds to me as if the judge and other court officials were soundly hoodwinked by the defense.
Indifference to the consequences of one's choices does not add up to mental problems. If indifference to consequences were the measure of mental illness then a high percentage of our male population would be locked up in mental facilities. e.g. "unintended" pregnancies while not using a condom.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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