Half an hour before the victim in the Stanford sexual assault case delivered an emotional speech that launched one of the biggest US crime stories of the year, another woman stood before the judge in the same California courtroom and shared a graphic account of violence and trauma.
The woman – a Chinese immigrant in her early 30s, whom the Guardian has agreed to identify as Jane Doe – told the judge, Aaron Persky, about the abuse she faced at the hands of her former fiance.
Standing in front of Persky in the small courtroom in Palo Alto, the woman held up large photos showing her injuries. In the images, her face and shirt were covered in blood, and her body was bruised. Her ex-boyfriend, 37-year-old Ming Hsuan Chiang, sat a few feet away.
“Is this acceptable?” Jane Doe said, her voice shaking, as she described the “torture” she faced while displaying the photos to the entire courtroom. Most audience members had showed up for the sentencing of Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault. Several gasped at the horrific images; some covered their eyes.
“Visible injuries can be treated, but invisible injuries sometimes can last forever,” the woman said during her passionate testimony.
After her speech ended, Persky finalized the sentencing: Chiang, who had pleaded no contest to a domestic violence felony of battery causing “serious bodily injury”, would face so-called “weekend” jail. That meant he would spend roughly 12 weekends in county jail, and that while serving his sentence, he could continue his job as an engineer in Silicon Valley.
The sentencing of Chiang on 2 June – the same day Persky made the controversial decision to allow Turner to avoid prison – did not attract any headlines. But critics of the judge say the case bolsters their argument that privileged men who attack vulnerable women face minimal consequences in his courtroom.
In her first interview about her case, Chiang’s victim described to the Guardian how her experience in the embattled judge’s courtroom mirrored the trial of the Stanford victim – and how she feels the system failed her by allowing her abuser to get away with a light punishment.
‘He hit me nonstop’
On the evening of 6 October 2014, police responded to 911 calls about a woman screaming for help at a house in Sunnyvale, a city 10 miles southeast of the Stanford campus in Palo Alto.
According to police reports, when officers found the victim, her lower lip was swollen, she had blood across her face and was frantic. She told police that Chiang, who also goes by the name “Tony”, was her fiance and that he had punched her approximately five times before she fell down outside of the house.
While she was on the ground, Chiang allegedly dragged the woman by her hair and simultaneously punched her, the police report states.
“He hit me nonstop,” the victim told an officer, according to a report. “He was trying to kill me.”
She had scratches on her neck and abrasions in numerous places, photos show. When she ran back inside Chiang’s house hoping to get help from his roommate, the fiance “continued to attack her further … by pulling and throwing her”, she told police, the report says.
After talking to witnesses and reviewing the woman’s injuries, officers arrested Chiang for domestic violence, and prosecutors charged him with a felony of assaulting a “spouse” and inflicting injuries “resulting in a traumatic condition”. If convicted, he could have faced four years in prison.
The woman later told police that the October attack was not the first time Chiang had assaulted her. During an earlier altercation, he had allegedly told her “something to the effect of ‘Don’t think I won’t kill you,’” a second police report says.
In an interview in Palo Alto after one of Chiang’s recent court appearances, Jane Doe said she hadn’t reported her fiance’s abuse because she thought he might stop. But when police showed up after the October incident, she hoped Chiang would face consequences.
However, when she sought support from a local church her fiance attended, leaders tried to persuade her to forgive Chiang, she said.
The woman – who emigrated from Taiwan to the US by herself as a young teenager – said she felt she would have a strong case in a trial.
“I have evidence. I have witnesses. I have police reports. I have photos,” she said, adding that once the court saw the images of her bloodied face and bruises, she expected Chiang would be given a serious punishment.
“If he had used more force, maybe I’d be dead or my brain would be dead.”
But when Jane Doe’s case landed in Department 89 – Judge Persky’s courtroom – the proceedings did not go as she had hoped.
‘Just like the Stanford case’
Persky faced international scrutiny and a high-profile recall campaign after he sentenced Turner, the former Stanford swimmer, to six months in county jail. The punishment was significantly lighter than the minimum of two years in state prison prescribed by law for Turner’s offenses – assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object.
On 18 January 2015, two bystanders caught Turner “thrusting” on top of a motionless woman outside a fraternity house by a dumpster. Turner has refused to admit that he assaulted the woman.
The case sparked widespread outrage largely due to the 23-year-old victim’s powerful and articulate statement about the devastating impacts of rape culture and sexual violence.
Jane Doe, who was on the court docket just before the infamous Turner hearing on 2 June, said she watched news of the Stanford sentencing spread on Facebook and immediately recognized the parallels to her own court battle.
“It’s just like the Stanford case,” she said, noting that Chiang – a well-paid and highly educated engineer – was also a privileged defendant who could afford a private lawyer.
In the final deal Persky approved, Chiang pleaded no contest to a battery offense lesser than the more serious charge he initially faced. The lesser offense was still a serious domestic violence felony that could have landed him in state prison for four years, according to the formal plea deal.
But instead, Chiang avoided prison altogether. The agreement called for 72 days in county jail, and Persky allowed the defendant to complete the sentence on weekends. Ultimately, he will only have to serve half of that time, said Kalila Spain, a local prosecutor who represented the victim.
A spokesman for the court declined to comment on the case, but noted in an email that sentences in plea deals are “independently agreed to by the District Attorney and defense counsel”.
Earl Jiang, Chiang’s lawyer, said he denies allegations of previous incidents of domestic violence. Jiang also downplayed the seriousness of the assault, saying: “They had a conflict, and my client from the very beginning acknowledged that he could’ve handled the situation better than he did. He let his emotions control him.”
Chiang did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer.
In her moving speech in court, Jane Doe said she has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and that it seemed unfair that a defendant’s lawyer could negotiate with the court to get such a favorable sentence for such a violent crime.
On multiple occasions, Judge Persky asked her to speed up and finish her remarks “As the victim, when I get beaten, can I ask for a better offer? Can I ask for a ‘discount’ beating?” she said. “There’s no opportunity for me to negotiate.”
When she read her lengthy statement in court, the woman struggled at times, since English is not her first language. On multiple occasions, Persky asked her to speed up and finish her remarks.
After she concluded, Persky said little about her speech. Instead, the judge and Chiang’s lawyer discussed the timing of jail in what appeared to be an effort to ensure that the defendant would be released each weekend in time for work on Monday.
Speaking up for immigrant victims
Since the Stanford sentencing, opponents and others have closely analyzed Persky’s previous actions to see if the Turner decision reflected a broader trend.
The judge’s allies – who include former judges, public defenders and criminal justice reform advocates – argue that Persky has been consistent in sentencing and that judicial discretion is critical to ensure that defendants receive fair treatment.
Harsher sentencing practices can unfairly punish low-income defendants, particularly people of color who are disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system, according to Persky’s supporters.
They also contend that judges have passive roles in plea deals and should not be held accountable for approving decisions that prosecutors and defense attorneys determine.
“This case was a deal that was negotiated with the district attorney’s office,” said Jiang.
But Michele Landis Dauber, a Stanford law school professor leading the recall campaign against Persky, said the Chiang case was further evidence that the judge was unfit for his position.
“It’s clearly a pattern of failing to take violence against women seriously,” said Dauber, who is a family friend of the Stanford victim. Dauber sat in court when Chiang’s victim read her statement.
“[Persky] seemed way more concerned about whether Mr Chiang would get to work on time than he did about how this victim is doing and how she was managing the trauma he had inflicted on her,” Dauber said.
“In addition to the fact that he treated her insensitively, the sentence itself is manifestly insensitive to the brutality of the beating,” she said. The Stanford victim has also told Dauber she was shocked and upset by how the other victim in the courtroom was treated that day.
The woman in the Chiang case said she wanted to share her story in hopes that it would help other victims come forward, especially minority women and immigrants who often fail to get the support they need when they are abused.
“Minority people don’t get sufficient resources … Today, only I’m suffering. But how about tomorrow? How about the next girl?” she said. “Where can we search for help?”
Although she felt the Stanford decision was unfair, “at least people noticed,” she said. “At least people paid attention.”
Original article posted by The Guardian
By Sam Levin
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