A senior university lecturer has been given a life sentence for trying to kill his estranged wife in a knife attack for financial gain. Dr Ying Zhang, 55, was found guilty at the Old Bailey in January of the attempted murder of Hannan Xiao, who was also a senior lecturer, after spying on her from a guesthouse.
The court heard their marriage was “faltering” in 2019, prompting Zhang to engage in “controlling behaviour” to “ensure he controlled the assets within the family” and caused Dr Xiao to take the decision to leave him.
It was said Zhang displayed “bizarre, jealous and obsessive behaviour” in the year leading up to the attack on September 21, 2021.
Judge Rupert Mayo said this was evidenced by the defendant’s use of the guesthouse opposite the former family home during the summer and the spreadsheets he prepared that tracked the movements of Dr Xiao and her colleagues from January 2021.
CCTV footage from the date of the incident showed the defendant following Dr Xiao to a parents’ evening in north London.
As his wife returned to her car, he stabbed her between 10 and 15 times in the chest, neck and back using a kitchen knife.
Members of the public had prevented the defendant continuing the attack and killing her, and it was only emergency surgery that had saved her life.
Zhang denied attempted murder and having a bladed article, but was found guilty of the charges by a jury.
At Northampton Crown Court on Tuesday, judge Mayo imposed a life sentence with a minimum term of 22 years for the attempted murder and a sentence of two years in prison for having a bladed article to run concurrently.
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The judge said: “There was a long standing failure by the defendant to accept his wife’s entitlement to a greater share of the joint finances and this was entrenched in his mind long before any decision to separate was made.
“I am satisfied that in his mind was a desire to…benefit financially from her death.”
Jurors had heard from Ms Xiao during the trial that she believed her husband attacked her to get hold of her pension and the family home.
Judge Mayo went on to say he rejected Zhang’s claims that he had no knowledge of possessing the knife or any memory of the incident.
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“I am sure that Dr Zhang knowingly and deliberately took a knife to the scene. He knew and planned where his wife would be and I am satisfied that his claim not to have memory of the attack is entirely false,” he said.
The judge concluded that Zhang should be treated as a “dangerous offender”.
In a victim impact statement read to court, Dr Xiao said: “For all those who are experiencing domestic violence right now, please you must report every instance to the police and go to the court to give evidence.
“Please you must protect yourself but not the abuser.
“If the abuser ever threatens you with killing, do not think a threat is just a threat.”
She added: “They will do it one day.”
She went on to express her gratitude to people who have helped her, particularly the members of the public “who saved my life from his (Zhang’s) knife”.
“How courageous and brave you are,” she said.
Prosecutor Walton Hornsby had told how Zhang was in a “cold fury” with his wife, who had been seeking a divorce.
The couple, who are both Chinese academics specialising in cybersecurity, had married in the UK in 2006.
But Mr Hornsby had described their relationship as “not always a happy one” and one which was “was marred by a number of incidents of domestic violence”.
The victim had reported to police that her husband had threatened to kill her but did not pursue charges against him.
The court heard in 2020 the defendant had accused her of being unfaithful with a man at work.
She had said she was “very frightened of his behaviour due to its escalation and increased paranoia”.
The couple separated and she successfully applied for a non-molestation order preventing the defendant, from Hatfield, approaching her at her new home in Watford.
The defendant was said to have breached the order in January and August 2021.
Zhang’s defence barrister rejected the suggestion the attack was done for financial gain and argued it was “plainly an act of something which might be better described as rage”.
His depression at the time of the incident was also put forward as mitigation.
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