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Judge rebukes Chinese mom for killing 5-year-old

By Alison Matas • Dec 30, 2017 at 6:00 PM

CANTON — Mingming Chen came to America searching for a better life.

But the stress of running the family's Jackson Township restaurant — practically a 24/7 operation — led to violence in the home, Chen's defense attorney, Richard Drucker, said in court Friday.

The "unfortunate byproduct" of that violence was the death of Chen's 5-year-old daughter, Ashley Zhao.

"She's very saddened by the loss of her child and asks for everybody's forgiveness," Drucker said.

Chen, 30, pleaded guilty Friday to several charges in her daughter's death. She will spend 22 years in prison and then is expected to be deported to China because she is not a legal resident of the United States.

As part of a negotiated plea agreement, the murder charge against Chen was reduced to involuntary manslaughter. She also pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering children, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, and gross abuse of a corpse. Her sentence includes 11 years for the involuntary manslaughter charge, eight years for one count of endangering children, and three years for tampering with evidence — the maximum prison sentence for each.

An interpreter read a short statement on Chen's behalf during the hearing Friday, saying she felt sorry for what happened, especially to her daughter, and that she wants to be a good person.

Chen and her husband, Liang Zhao, 34, reported their daughter Ashley Zhao missing on the evening of Jan. 9. Law enforcement searched the area around the Portage Street NW restaurant, Ang's Asian Cuisine, before discovering the girl's body in the restaurant the next day.

Ashley lived in New York with her grandparents until October 2015. Chen in her interview with investigators said the girl refused to listen and would push her sister when she didn't get her way.

Court documents accuse Ashley's parents of abusing her on multiple occasions from the time she moved in with them until her death more than a year later and say the girl suffered from blows to the head and torso.

During sentencing Friday, Stark County Common Pleas Judge Chryssa Hartnett told Chen it was with "great pain" she referred to her as a mother when speaking to her. Children, she said, should be able to rely on their parents for love, safety and protection, "and in this case, I can't imagine the horror for your child Ashley."

She said no number of years would constitute a long enough prison term but that avoiding a graphic trial to preserve Ashley's memory for her sister, who is old enough to understand what is happening, was desirable. Hartnett added she felt comfort knowing the couple's living daughter was "far better off" without having Chen as her parent.

Stark County Assistant Prosecutor Dennis Barr said Hartnett summed up the state's sentiments best.

"This was a tragic case, but part of the reason that we did this was we know she'll be in prison long enough that when she gets out, Jojo — her other daughter — will be a grown adult and able to protect herself," Barr said.

Jojo is living with relatives in New York, but Stark County Job and Family Services still has temporary custody, said Jerry Coleman, assistant deputy director of legal services for the agency.

Earlier this year, Chen's husband also accepted a plea agreement that dropped the murder charge he faced on the condition he testify against his wife at her trial. He has not been sentenced but is expected to receive a 12-year prison sentence with the possibility of early release after six years.

Stark County Prosecutor John D. Ferrero's office accidentally sent a news release a day early announcing that Chen had pleaded guilty. The release said the death penalty does not apply in this case because the murder was neither premeditated or purposeful and was the result of "a fit of anger."

Drucker, Chen's attorney, said he does not believe Chen intended to kill her daughter.

Ashley would have turned 6 on Saturday.


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