Victim testifies in poisoning case, sentencing marked for December

‘Like a scene from a horror movie,’ victim tells court

A court sketch from Friday's sentencing hearing. From left to right: K.K. Woo, Zijie Wang, Brian Greenspan.
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The victim of confessed poisoner Zijie Wang testified before court on Friday, fearing life-threatening illness months after he ate a carcinogen in his apple pie.

Reading his impact statement, the victim told Judge Allen Letourneau he was in disbelief at Wang’s poisoning of his food with N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is used to stimulate the growth of cancer in lab rats.

Wang—a former Queen’s Chemistry PhD candidate—pleaded guilty to two charges on Oct. 25, including administering a noxious substance and aggravated assault.

At court, the Crown presented video clips of Wang administering noxious substances to the victim’s food on Jan. 29, 2018.

The videos showed Wang, wearing a white lab coat and blue gloves, approach the victim’s desk alone with a syringe of yellowish liquid—later revealed to be NDMA and ethanol.

He administered the substance into the food on the victim’s desk four times.

“What kind of hatred would make a person attempt to kill his roommate?” the victim asked the court.   

He compared it to a similar landmark NDMA poisoning at China’s Fudan University, calling it the country’s equivalent to the O.J. Simpson trial.

In both cases, victims experienced nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Fudan victim, however, died 16 days after he was poisoned.

“I was a little luckier,” Wang’s victim told the court.

The victim’s testimony

The victim said he met Wang in September of 2014 as colleagues in the Queen’s chemistry department, both performing post-doctoral work.

They got along well initially, but the victim told the court Wang’s good behaviour was “merely an illusion, a performance.”

He said all of the perpetrator’s colleagues eventually had “unpleasant experiences” with Wang, raising doubts about his character. Over time, the victim said he and his colleagues deemed Wang an “evil-minded, two-faced person” and someone they “could never be friends with.”

Wang and the victim moved in together in December of 2016, but the latter moved out in May.

While the victim avoided personal contact with Wang, the two continued to work professionally with one another in the Queen’s chemistry labs, where they researched and published papers together until the poisonings began in January of 2018. 

The victim told the court the poisonings were “like a scene from a horror movie,” and the harm done to himself and his family was “unimaginable.” 

While the victim described the physical effects of the poisonings—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea—as “torture,” he said Wang’s arrest was only the beginning of his pain.

He made several trips to hospitals and clinics for fear he would develop cancer as a result of eating the food. He was unaware of the substance used in the poisoning for months after the incidents, and, as a result, missed the ideal window of time for treatment.

When the victim discovered his ingestion of NDMA, his body had already metabolized the lethal substance.

“I’m still waiting for the sound of the other shoe to drop,” he told the court, adding he will “suffer for life” wondering if he’ll develop cancer.

The victim told the court two small bumps have appeared on his chest, and while he has an upcoming doctor’s appointment, he fears they could be cancerous.

He also described the tense period between Wang’s bail release on Feb. 2, 2018, and his second arrest on April 12.  He constantly called his wife and two children—all living in Toronto—to ensure they were safe during the period.

“I couldn’t explain to my children why they had to shut the blinds and turns the lights on while the sun was shining outside,” the victim said, adding he still hasn’t told his family about the case or his being poisoned.

Wang testifies at court on Friday. (Illustration by Amelia Rankine)

Meanwhile, he said his career in the scientific community has suffered as a result of the case.

Following Wang’s arrest, the victim said his supervisor in the Liu Group, a research team at Queen’s, told him “inadequate funding” meant the lab wouldn’t renew his contract.

Because the department renewed the contracts of other researchers who had less experience than him, the victim said Wang’s actions embarrassed Queen’s chemistry department and his absence would help the school “heal.”

“It was a reasonable excuse to get me out,” he said.

He said without the support of his research supervisor at Queen’s, it will be difficult to re-enter the scientific community because he’ll face a career shift to support his family.

“This choice is forced upon me,” he said. “Where am I going to work next?”

The case’s attention caused the victim to isolate himself, especially after Wang’s arrest caused panic in the Queen’s chemistry department when some colleagues thought they’d been poisoned.

Greenspan’s defence

When Brian Greenspan, Wang’s attorney, addressed the court, he referenced several similar cases resulting in convictions. In each example, Greenspan said the sentences were less than five years.

In response, Letourneau indicated none of these cases dealt with the potential long-term effects of developing cancer. Letourneau said the victim in this case is “living with the unknown” and that he “won’t know whether these substances will be his downfall.”

He added the potential long-term effects to the victim’s health are a “significant factor … How long will he have to wait, until his death from natural or unnatural causes?”

Greenspan also cited the potential for Wang to be re-prosecuted once he’s back in China.

Greenspan indicated China doesn’t follow the principal of international “double jeopardy,” meaning a person convicted of a crime outside the country could face re-prosecution upon their deportation and return.

To support his concerns about re-prosecution, Greenspan said he’s received an email from a journalist at the Yangtse Evening Post—China’s most circulated newspaper. He said the reporter told him people in China were “concerned” about Wang’s case.

Prosecution’s statements

In her remarks, Janet O’Brian, the crown prosecutor, pushed for a sentence of seven years.

O’Brian said Wang’s use of gloves while administering the poison indicated Wang knew the lethality of the substance.

Citing Dr. Hans Peter Loock’s submitted statement, which explained the dangers of NDMA, O’Brian argued Wang “risked killing” the victim. She said Wang’s depth of knowledge in chemistry could also indicate premeditation of the crimes.

In Loock’s statement, he explained the chemical will kill “50 per cent of people who received a dose of just 2 grams.” An analysis of two of the victim’s water samples found 5.8 grams and 4.1 grams of the substance.

O’Brian also pushed back on Greenspan’s claim that Wang is “remorseful” about his actions.

She said when Wang was arrested, he lied to police about the substances he’d used to poison the victim, saying he’d only used ethanol. As a result, the victim wasn’t aware of his exposure to NDMA until a toxicology report confirmed it months later.

No motive for Wang’s crimes were offered at the hearing, which was adjourned until Dec. 11, when Letourneau will submit his decision.

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