Duanying Chen (center) outside the Santa Barbara Courthouse. (Jan, 24, 2015)
Paul Wellman

The mother of 20-year-old Duanying Chen, accused last May of fatally torturing a puppy and viciously choking his girlfriend, is asking a Santa Barbara judge to have some sympathy for her son. Chen is charged with animal cruelty, domestic battery, and witness dissuasion, and he faces a maximum six years and six months in prison. He is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

In her letter to Judge Brian Hill and during a Friday morning press conference in Los Angeles with Chinese media, Hongling Hu said Chen’s alleged misdeeds can be blamed on his overly sheltered upbringing, poor social skills, and ignorance of American law.

Hu described her son — a Chinese citizen studying at the time of his arrest at Santa Barbara City College — as a “straightforward, compassionate, and cheerful person” who likes animals and helping others. And she said her biggest heartache and regret over Chen’s reported violence is that it will cost him “a good education” and “a bright feature.”

Duanying Chen

“We ask you to please consider how studying abroad created hardship for my son who has never left our side,” Hu wrote to Hill. She said Chen’s “young age and immaturity” sent him spiraling when he fought with his 22-year-old girlfriend, who is also a Chinese citizen studying abroad, and that the couple often “dealt with problems and mood swings inappropriately” because their “parents are far away.”

Since Chen’s arrest, his mother went on, he has sought counseling and done much soul searching. He’s been baptized and hopes to volunteer at an animal shelter. SBCC expelled Chen when his arrest became public, but he has since enrolled in DeVry University, she explained.

Hu’s statements read like an admission of her son’s guilt. Chen’s defense attorneys have indicated that he plans on pleading guilty to his charges on Tuesday and putting his fate in the hands of Judge Hill during sentencing. “As Duanying’s parents, we ask your honor [sic] to show leniency on our son,” Hu concludes her letter, again stating Chen was simply unaware of U.S. laws. “[He has] learned his lesson, and wishes to continue his studies so he can better society,” she said.

China currently does not have any animal-welfare laws on its books. Long criticized by other developed countries for doing nothing to stop open displays of animal cruelty in factory farms and city markets, China introduced its first comprehensive protection law in 2009, but the draft legislation has since languished without any government action or enforcement.

On May 14, 2014, Santa Barabra police officers responded to a veterinary hospital after an employee noticed suspicious injuries on a miniature pinscher that Chen’s girlfriend brought in for treatment. The five-month-old puppy had suffered broken bones, cuts and burns, and wounds on its rectum and genitals. It was later euthanized.

Chen’s girlfriend told police she had arrived home to find the couple’s dog cowering on the ground and unable to walk. Chen told her the dog had fallen off a ping-pong table. Authorities also learned that during a heated argument, Chen had strangled his girlfriend to the point that she nearly lost consciousness. The two lived together on Monterey Street.

Prosecutors charged Chen with witness dissuasion after he called his girlfriend from jail and demanded that she drop the charges, tell a different story, and destroy evidence. Transcripts of their conversations were read aloud in court in March. “Just say you lied about it,” Chen said during the call. “You have to go and make a change and see if there is any evidence favorable to me. … If we can’t win the case, I don’t want to spend the money in fighting the case.”

Chen’s attorneys have argued that in China, state officials encourage the resolution of disputes outside the formal legal system. Chen posted $75,000 bail soon after his arrest and was released from custody.


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