Queen’s U chemistry researcher gets seven years for poisoning colleague
No one may ever know why a researcher in Queen’s University’s chemistry department was so determined to poison his colleague with a compound principally used to induce cancers in lab animals.
And Justice Allan G. Letourneau remains unconvinced of the “sincere remorse” expressed by Zijie Wang, 26, for at least three “calculated and evil” attempts on the life of his fellow researcher, noting that video recordings the victim obtained with a hidden camera on January 29 that showed captured Wang tampering with a loaf of Italian bread in the victim’s backpack “made the Crown’s case extremely compelling and difficult to successfully defend.”
“I am satisfied that he pled guilty for those reasons and not because of a remorseful conscience.”” the judge wrote in a judgement released Tuesday in which he sentenced Wang to the equivalent of a seven-year prison sentence.
As for presentations by Wang’s defence that Wang has no explanation for his behaviour, “I do not accept that answer,” Letourneau wrote.
“There was a reason, or reasons for his calculated and evil attacks on (the victim). He knows why, but chooses to keep that to himself.”
“Whatever the reason(s) for the poisoning, these crimes are inexplicable in the sense that the perniciousness of the crimes is immensely disproportionate to whatever issue(s) Mr. Wang had with (the victim).”
Wang pleaded guilty in Kingston’s Ontario Court of Justice in late October to administering a noxious substance to a post-doctoral fellow in his research group with intent to endanger the man’s life or cause bodily harm and a related charge of aggravated assault arising from the same circumstances.
Both Wang and the victim — whose identity was placed under a publication ban — are Chinese nationals.
Letourneau, after submissions from Wang’s lawyer, Brian Greenspan, and assistant Crown attorney Janet O’Brien. decided the Crown’s recommendation of seven years, minus pretrial custody was the more appropriate term. Accordingly, he gave Wang enhanced credit on the 250 days he’d already spent in pretrial custody, counting it as equivalent to 375 days already served, and sentenced him to a further 2,180 days in prison, or a week and a bit short of six years.
Wang was arrested on January 29, the same day his victim caught him on camera tampering with his food, but four weeks after the poisonings began.
In October, when he entered his pleas, the assistant Crown attorney told the judge that it all started on January 8 when the victim was sickened by two bites of pastry he’d bought earlier that day. The apple-filled pastry tasted bitter and unpleasant and the victim later became nauseated and developed a headache and diarrhea. But he thought it was simply food contamination.
A week later, he brought in another pastry, which he again left at his desk to have with his lunch. This item tasted fine at first, but developed the same unpalatable bitterness toward its middle and he immediately stopped eating and didn’t get sick a second time.
On Jan. 22, O’Brien said, it happened again, this time with some cinnamon raisin bread. The victim split the loaf, leaving half in the refrigerator at his apartment and bringing half to work, stored at his desk. By lunch time, court heard, the victim noticed the bread had taken on a chemical smell. The victim asked a fellow researcher to taste it and the man took a bite, spit it out and confirmed that it tasted bad.
Crown counsel O’Brien said there was also tampering with the water in a flask the victim habitually took with him on weekends when he’d drive to Mississauga to see his family. He noticed a chemical smell on January 19 and again on January 26.
By January 29, when he set up the secret camera aimed at his backpack, the victim was convinced someone was tampering with his food, but he had no clue what the contaminant was.
Wang told police it was the first time he’d done anything to his fellow researcher’s food and claimed the substance in the pipette he was shown holding on the hidden camera was only ethanol. His victim had retained samples of his contaminated food and water, however, which Kingston police submitted for forsensics testing.
Seven months later, toward the end of August, a toxicologist’s report revealed that the bitter contaminant was actually N-Nitrosodimethylamine (N-DMA) and N-DMA and diethyl ether, a potent carcinogen that isn’t stocked by any of the Queen’s labs.
In his reasons for decision, Letourneau wrote “it remains a mystery to the court as to how Mr. Wang obtained the N-DMA. Suffice it to say that it would have involved some clandestine effort to make the chemical or acquire it from a source.”
And “each time Mr. Wang poisoned (the victim) with N-DMA, he jeopardized (the victim’s) life,” Letourneau writes, noting “that risk was elevated when he poisoned him with both N-DMA and ethanol, which intensifies N-DMA’s toxicity.”
The poisoning victim, meanwhile, lives with the uncertainty of not knowing if or when he might develop cancer. He told Letourneau in November that he’d discovered two lumps on his chest. But as of Wang’s sentencing, their exact nature had not been determined.