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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Ex-MIT researcher sentenced to 35 years in prison in killing of Yale grad student in 2021

    In a series of photos shown in a New Haven courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, graduate student Kevin Jiang posed proudly outside Yale University, beaming toward the camera against the backdrop of the historic buildings on campus not far from where he would be gunned down in 2021 by Qinxuan Pan.

    Pan, an MIT researcher, was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years in prison for Jiang’s slaying after pleading guilty in February as part of a plea agreement.

    On Feb. 6, 2021, Jiang had just dropped his fiancé Zion Perry off at her home in New Haven when gunshots rang out. Jiang was found lying on Lawrence Street with multiple close-range gunshot wounds to his face, a prosecutor said in court Tuesday.

    He died from his wounds and his death was ruled a homicide.

    After a three-month nationwide manhunt that involved the FBI, U.S. Marshals and police officers from several states from New York to North Carolina, Pan was arrested in an Alabama apartment on May 14, 2021, and charged with Jiang’s murder.

    Investigators learned that he had known Perry at MIT, though the two had not remained in contact other than on social media. Prosecutors said Tuesday that forensic evidence linked Pan to the murder, including Jiang’s DNA on his winter hat.

    The killing, loved ones said at the sentencing, was a hateful plot motivated by jealousy.

    Not far from the grounds of the university where Jiang was a graduate student at the Yale School of the Environment, his loved ones filled the courtroom at Pan’s sentencing, watching a montage of photos play out, showing Jiang’s bright, wide smile.

    Nearly 50 people packed into the courtroom, including Perry, her parents, and Jiang’s parents, as many quietly wiped tears from their eyes. Pan looked at the screen or his feet showing no emotion.

    One after the other, nearly a dozen people stepped forward to express their devastation, grief, sorrow and fear in the wake of Jiang’s murder. They shared memories of Jiang, some speaking through sobs as they begged the judge for a harsher sentence, others addressing Pan directly and offering forgiveness.

    Jiang, a Chicago native, was a United States Army veteran and National Guard reservist. He was described by his parents, fiance, friends, professors and military comrades as a joyful friend, a faith-filled Christian, a brilliant student and a brave soldier.

    The 26-year-old had plans to head to law school to study environmental law and had grand ambitions to use his skills and knowledge to help protect the planet.

    But his “beautiful and joyful life was shattered,” his mother Linda Liu told the judge.

    Liu said Pan “killed my dear and only son Kevin out of fear and hatred.”

    Perry also spoke, reading biblical scripture and offering Pan the hope of justice mixed with mercy.

    Pastor Greg Hendrickson, who led the New Haven church that Jiang attended, said that just before Jiang’s murder, he received a call with the news that Jiang and Perry were engaged. He asked his pastor to officiate his wedding.

    A week later, he got another call informing him that Jiang was dead.

    Hendrickson said Jiang exemplified honor and devotion to his parents and had a bright future awaiting him.

    That future, and the support he provided his family — emotionally, spiritually, and financially — “was snatched away.”

    Liu also spoke of the moment she received the call that her only son had died.

    “It was like a thunderbolt striking me,” she said who a friend who read her statement for her. “In an instant, I felt dizzy and fell to the ground.”

    After immigrating to the United States and raising Jiang as a single mother, her life revolved around him. Her son had moved her to Connecticut, where the two spent their time attending weekly church services and gardening.

    Now, Liu said, she is afraid nearly every waking moment. She is depressed, paranoid and cannot sleep.

    “Murderer Qinxuan Pan is responsible for all of the damage I suffer,” she said. “I was dreaming that Kevin would have a few beautiful children after he got married.” But instead, “I am left alone by myself. In this world, I will never see Kevin smile again.”

    One family friend who also spoke described Liu as a humble woman who only wished for the simple pleasures of watching her child graduate, marry and have grandchildren she could help raise.

    He, too, spoke of his friend’s caring character.

    “His heart was so pure and he dedicated his life to protecting the environment. But all of that was shattered,” he said.

    A professor from Yale and instructors from other schools Jiang attended also made statements and read messages from other teachers who taught Jiang over the years.

    They all said he excelled in academics and described him as an extraordinary and enthusiastic student with a “megawatt smile.”

    A National Guard captain who served with him described him as strong, smart and well-trained, but said “More than that, he was a good man.” He said Jiang’s expertise in environmental science would have continued to save lives and protect members of the military.

    “Those opportunities were severed forever when he was murdered in cold blood,” he said.

    In stark contrast to the way her son was described, Liu described Pan as a “cunning, insidious and vicious person.”

    She and prosecutor Stacey Miranda made mention of the intentional, pre-planned nature of Jiang’s killing.

    Jiang’s father Mingchen Jiang said that he failed to find the words to describe the grief he felt when he thought of the way his son died.

    “We’re grieving not only the loss of a beloved son but with the cruel manner in which he was taken from us,” he said. “He had a bright future, one that promised to spread god’s love far and wide, yet his life was cruelly cut short by a deliberate and calculated act.”

    Pan spoke briefly, saying, “I feel sorry for what my actions caused. I feel very bad for what happened. It was very horrible.”

    Judge Gerald R. Harmon, in handing down his sentencing, urged Pan to use his time in prison to realize the magnitude of his actions and the never-ending grief they caused. He called Jiang a “bright light.”

    “I know this is a very sorrowful moment for everyone here, but what I’ve heard today is that Kevin is such a bright light,” he said. “There’s nothing that could have been done to extinguish that light in any manner and that light is going to continue to shine.”

    Harmon said that Pan would not be eligible for parole or probation and instituted a 60-year protective order between Pan, Perry and Jiang’s parents, who he encouraged to live as Jiang did — in service to his country, to the earth and to those he loved.

    “In terms of everyone here today, I ask that they all carry Kevin’s light forward,” he said. “Kevin is not going to be forgotten. And no matter what actions the defendant has done, none of that will extinguish Kevin’s life.”

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