A former graduate student working at Stanford’s School of Medicine who repeatedly tried to poison her labmates in the fall of 2014 will perform community service instead of spending time in jail, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled last Friday.
Xiangyu Ouyang, a Singaporean biochemistry student originally from mainland China, faced four felony counts of poisoning. She was arrested on Nov. 11, 2014 for intentionally putting paraformaldehyde into her labmates’ water bottles over the course of two months.
The 26-year-old scientist admitted to adding the potentially deadly chemical, used in embalming and in disinfectants and pesticides, to the drinks of some of her colleagues in the Nusse Laboratory in the Lorry Lokey Stem Cell Research Building, where she conducted research as part of Stanford’s cancer biology program. The second-year graduate student confessed to dosing her own water with the toxic chemical as well, court documents state.
In December 2014, Ouyang pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
The former student faced up to nine years of prison. Instead, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge V. Chiariello placed Ouyang on a three-year probation, during which she is to receive mental health treatment. At the time, she told the police she was “psychologically unstable, depressed, stressed and very dizzy.”
“Judge Chiariello recognized, as did the prosecution … that resolving this as a jail sentence was counterproductive,” Jeffrey Hayden, Ouyang’s attorney, told the San Jose Mercury News.
Ouyang is to pay restitution to her victims: one victim requested $393, and the court left general restitution open for future claims. Protective orders mandated by Chiariello also prevent the former Ph.D. student from entering in contact with the victims during the three-year period of probation or getting within 30 feet from Stanford property.
In addition, Ouyang must participate in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s weekend work program, which she chose instead of spending 180 days in county jail with a credit of four days. She has been sentenced to the equivalent of 88 days of eight-hour shifts in service work.
Chiariello took multiple factors into account to make his decision, including the notice of Ouyang’s psychiatric evaluation, the victims’ serious medical state and the unknown future health issues her labmates risk from being poisoned by a known carcinogen.
Although Ouyang faces potential deportation, her attorney stated that Ouyang has not received any deportation notice.
Contact Chloé Hamilton at chloeh ‘at’ stanford.edu.