Chinese-born chemist jailed for life for poisoning husband in America

Chinese-born Li Tianle killed her partner because he wanted a divorce

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 10:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 4:51am

A Chinese-born chemist who worked for a decade for one of America's biggest pharmaceutical companies was a cold, calculating murderer who poisoned her husband with an obscure and toxic metal rather than let him divorce her, a judge said as he sentenced her to life in prison.

Li Tianle won't be eligible for parole for more than 62 years for the killing of Wang Xiaoye, a computer software engineer, in early 2011, the judge said on Monday.

"This was planned, calculated and committed in a cruel and depraved manner," state Superior Court judge Michael Toto said.

The 43-year-old Li was convicted in July of murder and hindering apprehension. Her attorney had sought a 30-year sentence.

Li continues to deny any role in her husband's death, said her attorney, Steven Altman. In a brief, tearful statement read in court on Monday, Li said she prays for her husband's soul and would appeal against the verdict. The couple has a son who is four and in the care of relatives.

Li worked for New York-based biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb. Prosecutors introduced evidence during the trial that she ordered thallium, a tasteless, odourless poison, in 2010 after researching its effects on humans.

Thallium has been banned for consumer use in the US since 1972. It can be fatal in doses as small as a gram and has been called the perfect poison because it's difficult to detect in lab tests.

Wang, 39, checked into a hospital in January 2011 suffering from what appeared to be the flu or some other virus. He lapsed into a coma and died.

Li was at her husband's side in the hospital, even changing his bedpan, Altman pointed out.

Prosecutor Christie Bevacqua told the judge Li was "secretly keeping a journal of all his symptoms, wondering when he was going to die".

"She calculated every aspect of her husband's murder; not only how to do it, but how to get away with it. She thought she was going to get away with this murder," Bevacqua said. "She chose to murder her husband rather than allow him to divorce her."

Li, who is from Beijing, came to the US in the late 1990s and worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb for about 10 years. She met Wang when they were studying at the University of Pennsylvania. The couple lived in Monroe in central New Jersey. Prosecutors said that police had been called to the residence several times for domestic disturbances.

Altman said in court on Monday that some of the disputes arose from culture clashes between the Americanised Li and her husband's more traditional family, who had come to help the couple care for their son.