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.