DEDHAM - Blinking back tears, a Quincy mother of two who recently immigrated from China pleaded not guilty today to murdering her 8-year-old boy through carbon monoxide poisoning and an overdose of a sedating drug.
Li Rong Zhang, 39, in her first public appearance in court, said little as she stood before Norfolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fishman, her hands and ankles shackled. Only when asked how she wished to plead did she say something in her Cantonese dialect to her interpreter, who told the judge Zhang had pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have alleged that Zhang had tried to kill herself the day her son died, making her case the second attempted murder-suicide by a troubled and socially isolated Chinese immigrant mother from Quincy in the past two years. In 2009, Xue Fang Chi, 38, was charged in an attempted murder-suicide, which ultimately took the life of one of her two young daughters, as well as a 7-month-old fetus.
In outlining the state's case against Zhang, prosecutor Lynn Beland described how Zhang's older teenage son became alarmed in January when he returned to his Quincy home to find smoke floating through a bedroom door, which had been barricaded shut with a bureau. When firefighters arrived and broke through the door, they found Zhang and her youngest boy, Brendan Yang, a student at the Snug Harbor Community School in Quincy, both unconscious. A charcoal fire in a wok was burning inside the room.
The boy, who was pronounced dead that day, also had signs of blunt trauma to his neck, back, and hand, the prosecutor said. His autopsy report showed he had consumed an excessive amount of a sleep-inducing allergy drug, such as Benadryl.
Zhang is being held in a women's state prison in Framingham. Her defense attorney, James Doyle, declined to say what type of defense he plans to present. Zhang had apparently had a history of mental problems, as well as domestic strife involving her husband who had begun a new life with another woman. If convicted of first-degree murder, she faces a maximum life imprisonment without parole.
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