Episode 1 The Killing of Ashley Zhao

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On Monday 9th January 2017, around 6:00 pm, 911 dispatch in northeast Ohio get a call from a man named Liang Zhao who says that he needs help. When asked what’s going on, the man says that his 5-year-old daughter has gone missing from the restaurant that he and his wife own and operate…

On Monday 9th January 2017, around 6:00 pm, 911 dispatch in northeast Ohio get a call from a man who says that he needs help. When asked what’s going on, the man says that his 5-year-old daughter has gone missing from the restaurant that he and his wife own and operate. The father says his daughter was sleeping in the back of the restaurant while he and his wife prepared food and served customers, the restaurant had got busy and then, once it had quietened down, they started cleaning up, which was when they noticed that their daughter wasn’t there. He couldn’t be sure exactly when he or his wife last saw her but he said it must have been around 4 or 5 o’clock, before the restaurant had got busy. As you would expect with a missing child of such a young age, police spring into action. The 911 dispatcher has officers arrive at the restaurant while she is still speaking with the man on the phone. Shortly after, the surrounding area is searched and a missing child alert is issued, but tragically, just the very next day, Ashley’s body would be found stuffed in a plastic container which had been hidden in her parents own restaurant.

Hello, I’m Fiona, and welcome to Turned Up Dead. The true crime story I’m going to tell you today is of the killing of 5-year-old Ashley Zhao.

The first police hear of Ashley is when her father, Liang Zhao, calls 911 and reports her missing. So let’s start with that call.

The call starts with an operator answering and saying, ‘Jackson Township police,’ to which Liang Zhao replies quote, ‘Hi, yes I need some help,’ end quote. The operator says okay and asks where he’s calling from. Liang gives the address which the dispatcher repeats, and  confirms with a, ‘Yeah’. The operator then asks him what’s going on.  replies quote, ‘I- I can’t find my daughter’ end quote. The operator asks how old she is and LV tells her that she had just turned five before he momentarily gets distracted by someone in the background. He confirms that he is at Ang’s restaurant, which is his own restaurant, and then the operator asks when he last saw his missing daughter.  gives a pretty vague answer. He answers quote, ‘This afternoon probably,’ end quote. The operator asks around what time and gets another vague response from  who says quote, ‘Uh, three maybe four,’ end quote. The operator responds quote, ‘You haven’t seen her in 5 hours?’ end quote.  replies, quote ‘About yeah I- I mean she was just there sleeping I mean you know,’ end quote.

Now, I don’t have any children so I’ve never had to report my child missing but I have dogs and one of my dogs went missing a few months back. She was fine and I found her about 30 minutes later at an Italian restaurant around the corner – she has good taste – but until then I ran around like HollyGoLightly at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s asking everybody I saw if they had seen her; within 10 seconds they had a full description of my dog, knew where she was last seen, and her name. 

13 seconds into this call, the supposed reason for the call, his missing daughter who’s only 5 years old, who he claimed not to have seen for 5 hours, had only just been mentioned. Where is the urgency? During this time  said that he needed help, but then waited another 10 seconds or so to be asked what the problem was. I doubt I would have the patience to wait for the operator to finish asking that question let alone wait to be asked what the problem is. 10 seconds is a long time in an emergency situation. I’d expect the parent of a young child who hasn’t been seen in such a long time to want to get this information across as soon as possible and not wait to be asked, which  could have done that in the first sentence, ‘Hello, my daughter is missing, she’s 5. We’re at 4924 Portage Street. Nobody’s seen her in 5 hours.’ I probably wouldn’t even bother saying hello.

Something I would bother to say would be the name of the restaurant which  doesn’t offer; he only gives the building number and only confirms that he’s at Ang’s restaurant when asked. I can’t imagine that that are too many Ang’s restaurants in Jackson Township Ohio so surely it would help to give the name, but instead  just says 4924 Portage Street.

The call continues with the operator continuing to have ask  for basic information such as what Ashley was wearing and where she was last seen. He doesn’t offer any of this information freely, and he uses quite vague language in this part of the call as well. He says the last time he saw Ashley was, quote ‘this afternoon probably’ , ‘around 3:00 maybe 4:00′ and ‘about 5 hours’.

When my dog was missing, I knew exactly when I last saw her but here we have two parents who are unsure of when they last saw their missing five-year-old daughter who they’ve not seen for about 5 hours.

Until this point in the call all of ‘s answers are short and contain no additional detail. His answers for the remainder of the call are quite the opposite; they are much longer and more detailed.

When asked if his daughter was sleeping in the restaurant, Liang Zhao replied yeah yeah and then went on to give quite a rambling answer. He continued quote, ‘She was sleeping there and uh I picked up my- my older daughter from school and we all saw her sleeping there so- and you know we went to work and you know we let her sleep we- and then we got busy and then uh- uh after it got busy we start cleaning up and then- and then you know we open the door and she’s not here,’ end quote. He could have confirmed that she was sleeping in the restaurant with one word, Yes. 

The additional information he gives seems a little off too; it doesn’t seem relevant to finding a supposedly missing child. For example, does the operator really need to know that he picked his older daughter up from school before discovering his younger daughter missing? How does that help in finding her?

Some relevant information he could have given at this point would have been a description or his daughter’s name, neither of which he offered at any time in this call. To me he just doesn’t sound like a father who is genuinely concerned about his missing 5 year old child.

 is asked his name which he gives, and if there are any cameras in the restaurant, which there weren’t. Once again  gives additional information that seems irrelevant – after saying there are no security cameras, he tells the operator that they’ve been there in the restaurant for 6 years and they’ve never had security cameras. He then goes on to repeat some of what he said earlier about picking up his older daughter from school before seeing his younger daughter sleeping in the restaurant.  says that there were just two people working in the restaurant, himself and his wife, and then there’s a bit of confusion between Liang Zhao and the call operator about who was in the restaurant with Ashley when he went to get their older daughter from school. This is where I finally hear a bit of emotion in his voice; it’s obvious he really wants to get it straight and takes some time to make it clear that his wife stayed in the restaurant the whole time, which, to give him the benefit of the doubt might be ok however, when you put that next to the short answers that he gave with no additional information in details when asked about his missing daughter, I think it looks quite strange; he puts a lot of effort into clearing the confusion about his wife but put little effort into reporting much about Ashley or her disappearance. He sounds a bit irritated when he says quote ‘No I didn’t say that I said my wife is here all the time.’ I don’t think there’s anything suspicious about being irritated in this situation, but I would expect a parent who is giving  report of their missing child to be more likely to show irritation concerned with finding their child. For example, ‘No, I said my wife was here. That’s not important. My child is missing. You need to send someone here right now.’ But we don’t hear anything like that from him.

3 minutes and 40 seconds into the call, the operator asks  what his daughter’s name is. Until this point, right at the end of the call,  had only referred to Ashley as ‘my daughter’ ‘she’ and ‘her,’ perhaps not using her name was a way of distancing himself from what he and his wife had done to her.

When police officers arrived at the restaurant, Ashley was nowhere to be seen, and oddly, their search of the restaurant revealed no evidence that showed how or from where Ashley had even been taken. Her parents gave the police a photograph of her. Whilst at least one officer remained at the restaurant that night, around 70 other officers searched through the freezing cold for little Ashley or any clue of where she might have gone, but, of course, they found nothing. 

The next morning the search continued. The Jackson fire department, who were assisting Jackson Township police, used a drone to look for Ashley and dogs were called in to aid the search of a woodland area that ran behind Ang’s restaurant and the neighbouring businesses.

Jackson Township Police released a press statement that day saying that they are investigating the disappearance of a 5-year-old female who they believed had wandered out the back door of her family’s restaurant. It described Ashley as approximately 4 ft tall 35 to 40 lb with black hair and brown eyes. Didnt say shes Chinese…

Shortly before midday, the Ohio attorney general’s office issued a missing child alert for Ashley.

Authorities, wanting to eliminate the possibility that Ashley had crawled into a space in the restaurant that they had missed the previous night, decide to do a more thorough search of Ang’s. Jackson Township Police chief, Mark Brink told Fox8 news quote, ‘we were thinking that she possibly had gone somewhere that the parents just didn’t know where to find her at within the restaurant.’ End quote

The interviewer asked quote ‘looking for a place where a child might hide?’ end quote. The officer answered ‘Correct.’ In response to, ‘Not where someone would hide a child?’ He replied, ‘Absolutely.’

Around 4pm Ashley’s body is discovered inside the family’s restaurant. Jackson Township police release a media statement later that day which said Ashley had been found quote ‘deceased and concealed inside the building,’ end quote. The media statement thanked a number of organisations for help in the search for Ashley. They thanked Jackson Township detective bureau, Jackson Township fire department, canal Fulton Police department, stock county sheriff’s office, Ohio BCI, Canton SWAT cooperative, US marshals task force, Canton Police department and canal Fulton fire explorers – that’s a lot of people involved in the search.

Now investigating a likely homicide, Jackson Township police are assisted by the FBI and Ohio BCI (Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation). 

Liang Zhao and Ming Ming Chen are taken into police custody in connection with Ashley’s death. Their oldest child, JoJo, is put in the temporary custody of Stark County Job and Family Services. Meanwhile, Ang’s restaurant is photographed, a rental car parked outside the restaurant is removed, and the family apartment is searched. 

Once in police custody, Liang Zhao took a polygraph test, I couldn’t find any mention of the outcome of this but I suspect he failed, or was at least told he failed as Liang Zhao then told police Ashley was dead and admitted hiding her body in the restaurant.

So who is Liang Zhao? Other than the facts surrounding this case, there is little information available about him to be found online. Zhao was born in Fujian province, in southeast China and later moved to the US and by 2017, when these events unfolded, he had lived in the US for about 20 years and had become a naturalized US citizen.

In September 2011, he opened Ang’s Asian cuisine in North Canton, Ohio, which is about an hour’s drive south of Cleveland. He and his wife were the only people who worked in the restaurant, which according to Yelp, was open from 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. Prior to owning Ang’s, he ran the Lucky Star Chinese restaurant with his father. Three of his uncles each had their own restaurant in the area; all named Lucky Star. Liang Zhao married Ming Ming Chen in March 2010 and they had two daughters; JoLyn, JoJo for short, born in 2010, and Ashley born in December 2011. At the time of Ashley’s death Liang Zhao was 34 years old. 

At the start of his 46 minute interview, Liang Zhao tells investigators that his wife killed Ashley on Monday morning in their apartment. After failing to resuscitate her, Liang explains how he and his wife had panicked, and not wanting to split up the family or ruin their business, had come up with the idea to report Ashley missing. Liang Zhao then took Ashley’s body to the restaurant and hid her inside.

Ming Ming Chen, having only a low-conversational level of English, started her interview with police with a translator from the FBI present. Through the translator, Ming Ming said she was willing to speak with police and signed paperwork to remain silent and to waive her right to have an attorney present.

After repeated denials and saying that she didn’t know what happened to Ashley, Ming Ming finally confessed to killing her youngest daughter telling the interviewing investigator, quote, ‘I killed her.’ She explained, quote, ‘Kids always do something you know. The bad things that make me angry and I can’t control myself and I kill her.’

Ming Ming Chen is charged with murder and assault and booked into Stark County Jail. Liang Zhao is charged with complicity to murder and complicity to commit felonious assault and he is also booked into Stark County Jail.

So what do we know about Ming Ming? Well, not much. We know that like her husband, Ming Ming Chen was from Fujian, China but unlike him, Ming Ming Chen wasn’t a US citizen or even legally in the country. There is mention of her mother and a brother in China. In 2009, she applied for asylum in the US. Chen claimed that due to her religious beliefs, she faced persecution in China. Chen said that she had paid a smuggler, or snakehead, who got her first to Mexico and then across the border, hidden in a van, and into the US. Ming Ming Chen claimed to have been an elementary school teacher in China. None of this was true. Chen had actually arrived in the US as a teenager. Her application was denied because there were inconsistencies in the story she gave authorities. On 8 October 2010 MIng Ming Chen gave birth to her first daughter, JoJo, and a little more than a year after that, in December 2011, Ashley was born. Chen appealed this decision twice, even adding claims that she had been held in an education camp and that her brother in China was arrested for practising the same religion as does, but her petitions were denied, with her last appeal being denied in 2012 by the highest court to which she could appeal who then ordered her to leave the US.

That night, as news of the unthinkable outcome of the search for little Ashley spread, people laid flowers and toys outside Ang’s restaurant as they tried to comprehend what might have happened.

So what did happen? 

Monday January 9th 2017 started like a normal day. Liang Zhao and his wife Ming Ming Chen got up. They got their older daughter JoJo ready for school and Liang Zhao drove her there. 

He returned home to find his wife Ming Ming very angry with their younger daughter Ashley. This was around 9am. Ming Ming berated Ashley for not being able to use a potty and instead still needing a diaper. 

In an interview that day Liang Zhao said quote ‘my wife was very angry at Ashley because she peed on her diaper and she pooped on her diaper’ end quote. Ashley then removed her diaper which made Ming Ming Chen even angrier. She hit her 5-year-old daughter in the head, according to police she punched Ashley a number of times, which caused a fatal brain injury and Ashley’s death. 

After her mother had attacked her, Ashley lay on the floor. Liang Zhao first says Ashley was breathing but went on to describe how Ashley was gasping. In his police interview he mimed gasping for air  and mimicked the gasping sound. 

Ashley began to breathe but he says it sounded like a snore. Ashley then vomited. Rather than call for medical help, Ashley’s parents, in her father’s own words quote, ‘You know took her to the bathroom, rinsed her off then put clothes on her and then let her sit there for a little while,’ end quote. 

After about 5 to 10 minutes, Ashley stopped breathing and her heart stopped. 

Liang Zhao said that he hadn’t really been paying attention but then a little later, when he went over, something didn’t feel right and that was when he realized Ashley had no heartbeat. He said he panicked and tried CPR; breathing into her mouth and giving her chest impressions in an attempt to save her. Liang Zhao said he doesn’t know exactly how long he did that for but it was a long time – 15 minutes to half an hour or something like that he said. However long this was for, if true, it was unsuccessful.

While 5-year-old Ashley lay dead on the floor – in the place she should have been safest – her parents came up with a plan.

Liang and Ming Ming dress Ashley in her purple coat, then her father carries her small lifeless body out of the apartment. He sat her in the car seat of their rental car and drove to the family restaurant. They got to Ang’s Asian cuisine around 10am. 

As Liang Zhao is carrying Ashley’s body from the car into the restaurant, he was seen by two men working on a nearby roof. Liang Zhao noticed them as well. But nothing seemed unusual – it just looked like a father carrying his sleeping child. Liang Zhao laid Ashley on a makeshift bed in the back room as if she were sleeping, and then he and his wife start prepping to open the restaurant as usual. 

Before it’s time, Liang Zhao tells Ming Ming to pick up their older daughter from school. When 6-year-old JoJo gets to the restaurant, her parents made sure that she saw her younger sister lying on the bed. In his police interview Liang Zhao commented, quote, ‘She can’t tell the difference between someone that’s no longer breathing and someone sleeping,’ end quote. Her parents wanted her to see Ashley lying there so she would tell that to police when questioned.

When JoJo has seen Ashley ‘sleeping’, Zhao and Chen tell her that her sister isn’t allowed out of the room as a punishment for wetting herself. That day, Ashley’s body lay dead in the back room for more than 8 hours while her parents opened Ang’s Asian Cuisine and served customers as if nothing had happened. 

Later in the day, while JoJo was at a friend’s house, and Ming Ming Chen was presumably front of house, because the restaurant was still open, Liang Zhao moved Ashley’s body from the bed and put her into a large plastic container. He poured salt in the container over Ashley in an attempt to eliminate any smell, and sealed it. He then carried the container up a ladder and placed it in a space above the restaurant’s walk-in-freezer. Liang said that he and Ming Ming had decided on this place because it was well ventilated and they wouldn’t have to worry about temperature because it was cool up there. Then, around 9pm with the restaurant still open, Liang Zhao called 911.

This is a little graphic, but not not overly so and I do think it’s worth considering. As I said before, Ashley was left lying on the bed for a long time. It was from 10 o’clock in the morning until around 6-7pm, so I think her body would have already stiffened from rigor mortis. So, this is awful to think about, but I think it’s likely that Liang Zhao would have had to have bent Ashley’s limbs to fit her into the container. During the police interview when he talked about this he gestured the container and it looked to be about 3ft long.

On Wednesday January 11th Leanne Zhao and Ming Ming Chen attend an initial arraignment and are formally informed of the charges against them.  Jackson Township police alleged that Ming Ming Chen struck Ashley several times in the head causing her death, and that Liang Zhao, after unsuccessfully attempting CPR, helped cover up the crime.   a 5 million dollar bond is also set. Their bond was set so high because  has relatives in New York and Chen had been ordered deported.

An autopsy performed on the same day confirmed Ashley’s death to have been caused by blunt trauma.

On Thursday January 12th a custody hearing is held regarding JoJo. Liang Zhao was adamant during his interview that he didn’t want JoJo to go to his family in New York, and as no other relatives were identified to care for JoJo so it was determined that she’d remain in the care of Stark County Job and Family Services.

On the same day, a number of news outlets publish the recording of Liang Zhao’s 911 call.

On Saturday January 14th, 5 days after her life was taken far too early, Ashley’s remains were claimed by her relatives in New York. According to findagrave.com Ashley had been cremated. No service was held for her in Ohio and I found no mention of any service for Ashley in New York. 

On Thursday 19 January, Ming Ming Chen and Liang Zhao attend a preliminary hearing which had been scheduled to start at 11am but began late after Liang Zhao fell while getting out of the transportation van in shackles and was taken to hospital. Though if you ask me, they should have shoved him into a plastic box. 

When Zhao returned, both he, with a wound on his face from his fall, and his wife waived their right to a preliminary hearing. They did this in exchange for information from the prosecutor’s office which may have been useful for their cases. Because of this, a grand jury would now decide probable cause, if any, and decide what final charges to issue.

On March 7, Chen and Zhao are indicted by a grand jury on the same six charges of; murder, two counts of endangering children, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice and gross abuse of a corpse. If convicted, they would be sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

They formally hear the charges against them at an arraignment at Stark County Common Pleas Court where Ming Ming Chen learns that a conviction for her may have to consequence of deportation and exclusion from the admission into the US in the future. 

Both Chen and Liang enter pleas of not guilty. 

In Ohio defendants have the right to a speedy trial, and that’s pretty much what the name says, and in Chen and Zhao’s cases, that means that they have the right to have a trial within 90 days from their date of arrest. However, both waived their right to do this, which would allow them more time to build their defense.

In June 2017, Ming Ming Chen’s attorney requested Ming Ming have a psychiatric evaluation. This request was granted by Judge Chryssa Hartnett.

There was no news published until September 11 2017 when it was reported that Liang Zhao had reached a plea deal with prosecutors. In exchange for testifying against his wife, his murder charge would be dismissed, but he would plead guilty to the remaining charges; two counts of endangering children, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, and gross abuse of a corpse. For this he would be sentenced to a total of 12 years. His formal sentencing wouldn’t take place until Ming Ming Chen had been sentenced.

A month after this, Ming Ming Chen entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which Judge Chryssa Hartnett allowed, pending an independent evaluation on the state of Ming Ming’s mental health at the time of Ashley’s death.

On Monday 16 October, which was the day originally scheduled for Ming Ming Chen’s trial, her attorneys took part in a suppression hearing with Stark County prosecutors. Chen’s attorney argued that the video of Chen’s confession should be suppressed and not entered into evidence. I was unable to find the outcome of this but based on what Ming Ming Chen did next, I’d say her attorney was unsuccessful.

Ming Ming Chen agreed to a plea deal. Her murder charge, with the possibility of life imprisonment, would be dropped to involuntary manslaughter, and she would serve 22 years and be deported unon her release. 

On Thursday 28 December a press release was emailed which gave details of the deal. It read quote “Taking into account the pending deportation issue along with some complex evidentiary issues in this case, the State believed the best resolution was to resolve the case to guarantee that Ming Ming Chen would spend significant time in prison for her actions that resulted in the tragic death of young Ashley,” end quote. This release had been emailed early by mistake.

The next day, Ming Ming Chen pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter two counts of endangering children, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, and gross abuse of a corpse. Her attorney said quote, ‘this is a tremendous amount of pressure that was put upon this couple and the family this led to violence in the home and an unfortunate byproduct of this violence with the death of Ashley.’

After delivering her sentence of 22 years, Judge Chryssa Hartnett told Ming Ming Chen quote, ‘I find it difficult to imagine the horror for your child Ashley. Barely 5 years old belly 5 years old the void of love the complete absence of protection the presence of such anger the horror of being beaten by your own mother and I use the word mother with great pain I find when talking to you it’s insulting to mothers who do what they’re supposed to do for that children. No number of years is enough 100 years is not enough’ end quote.

Upon her release in 2040 Ming Ming Chen will be deported from the US.

The Monday following Ming Ming Chen’s sentencing, clips of her ‘confession’ are released to the press. When reporting on these, many newspapers used words such as ‘chilling, cold and heartless’. UK paper, The Mirror, published an online story with the headline, ‘mum’s emotionless confession as she admits beating daughter, 5, to death for being ‘disobedient.” To be fair, they’re not wrong. The clips of Ming Ming Chen’s confession that were most widely distributed do come across as quite chilling. Chen very flatly admits killing her daughter. At one point, the investigator says quote ‘Ming Ming your daughter is dead. What happened to Ashley? How did she die?’ and she replies, quite flatly, without any emotion in her voice, quote ‘I killed her,’ end quote. When asked another time during her interview, she replies, quote ‘I just kill her and then she die’ end quote in the same flat tone. Though I think it’s important to remember that people react differently in situations like this, especially with people such as Chen who don’t have a high level of English, and also where cultural differences come into play. 

On Wednesday 10th of January 2018, Liang Zhao was formally sentenced to 12 years in prison. He will be able to apply for early release after six years. The Canton Repository reported that at his sentencing, Liang Zhao said he wished the situation were different, not because he was going to go to prison but because his daughter was gone. He said, quote, ‘And no one’s going to remember her, no one but the people in my family. I don’t want to be rude but none of you remember her, none of you,’ end quote.

Well let’s prove him wrong.

Ashley Zhao was born on Friday December 30 2011 in Brookly, New York. Shortly after she was born, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother in China. Whereas this may seem unusual to western families, in many Asian countries, it’s quite common, especially if both parents work as was the case with Ashley’s parents, and both Liang and Ming Ming were from China. In October 2015, Ashley rejoined her family in Ohio. 

The most widely spread photograph of Ashley is her passport photograph. It shows a young Chinese girl with her dark hair cut into a chin-length bob with a straight-cut fringe, or bangs for any US listeners. I could only find one other photograph of Ashley which was published by Chinese newspapers. In this photograph she’s wearing a pink jacket  and is leaning forward on a table with her small hands clasped together. There’s a bow in her hair, which is longer than in her passport photo, and there’s a slight smile on her face. 

Regular customers of Ang’s spoke of Ashley as a social child who wasn’t afraid to speak to customers. One customer told WEWS news quote, ‘She’s the sweetest little thing! I loved her so much. Every time I picked up food she was behind the counter and would talk to me.’ 

Ashley looks like a really sweet kid who deserved a hell of a lot more.

This case wasn’t originally going to be the first episode of this podcast; the case that I first started on for this first episode had a lot more to it than I originally knew so I decided to keep that for a later, possibly 2-part episode and find a more straightforward case, this one, for episode one. However, the more research I did on this case, the less straightforward it became and I started questioning a few things.

The cases that police made against Ming Ming Chen and Liang Zhao were very much based, pretty much fully based on what Liang Zhao said during his police interview. I didn’t hear of any other evidence used in either of that cases which I don’t think is too surprising given the circumstances. The attack took part in the family home so that would make any DNA evidence near impossible to interpret, I would have thought. I’m not saying in any way that I think Liang Zhao or Ming Ming Chen innocent; I think both are very much responsible for Ashley’s death I think Liang Zhao might have gotten away far too lightly.

Although not reported or commented on, as Ming Ming Chen’s demeanor was, Liang Zhao acted very coldly towards Ashley in his police interview. When asked by investigators what the plan was if Ashley hadn’t been discovered by the police, Liang Zhao gave a very chilling answer. He relied, quote, ‘We don’t really know there was three things I- burn- burn it, bury it, throw it in the ocean,’ end quote. Now this is only about thirteen minutes into the interview, and by this time he was already referring to his own daughter as ‘it.’

Now I know I said before that people react differently to different situations, but this is the death of a young child. And the father shows no signs of remorse for his actions or any sadness following Ashley’s death during his police interview, which was only the next day. I mean this is a man who had recently witnessed his wife violently attack his 5-year-old daughter, who then died despite his own attempts of CPR but during his 46 minute interview, the only times he really shows any emotion at all is when he’s talking about JoJo or trying to get his story straight with the investigators interviewing him. 

As I keep saying, I know people react differently, but he got upset about the thought of his living daughter going to his mother but not about Ashley who was dead at 5 years old and he had witnessed her death? That doesn’t make sense to me.

He does show some regret for his part, but this seems to be because of the outcome of him and his wife being arrested, rather than Ashley being dead. During his police interview, he said quote, ‘We didn’t expect this we didn’t know the procedure with what was going on you know we didn’t know that I was going to come down here, take a polygraph so much questions or so many people involved if we knew that there was going to be 100 people searching for her, maybe even more, I don’t know. I am so sorry,’ end quote.

One emotion I think Liang Zhao does show towards Ashley is frustration.  Zhao spends quite a lot of time during his police interview explaining what it is that she does wrong. He repeats that Ming Ming Chen gets angry when Ashley goes to the bathroom in her diaper but later on he explains and demonstrates a way that Ashley stood and when he is describing this, he doesn’t say that this upsets Ming Ming once. It seems to really frustrate him. Zhao makes the effort to stand up, take his jacket off and show the police officers how she stood. Maybe it did anger Ming Ming but I think it likely angered him too. Right at the end of giving this story, he says quote, ‘So every single time Ashley would do something like that it would trigger my wife,’ end quote. It’s like he’s suddenly remembered it’s his wife who’s supposed to be angry, not him, and added her on the end.

Ming Ming Chen is absent in a few key parts of the story her husband tells police. After Zhao says his wife hit Ashley’s head on the carpet, there was no mention of how Ming Ming Chen reacted to this. When asked what time this happened Zhao gives a response which I find really unsettling. He says quote, ‘Maybe 9:00-9ish I can only say approximately I didn’t, you know, look at the time, he mines looking at a watch on his wrist and says oh my wife’s banging Ashley’s head on the carpet and it’s 9:15. He needs his hands away from his watch and stops his mining action and then continues 9ish 9:15ish I think I guess.’ 

Then in the interview, Zhao goes on to describe how Ashley wasn’t walking but she was breathing, and that he thought that she was going to come out of it but she stopped breathing and he started panicking and tried CPR. When describing this part of the story he uses the pronoun ‘I’ 13 times but doesn’t mention his wife at all until, again, right at the end of telling the story he adds this comment, ‘And that’s when we realize she’s gone and I try and you know I tell my wife there’s no time you know if I just realized it sooner that you know.’ What’s her reaction to her daughter stopping breathing shortly after she’s just beaten her?

There’s also at least one inconsistency between the story of Ashley’s death that Liang Zhao gave during his police interview and what Ming Ming Chen said during her police interview. Liang Zhao said that Ming Ming had hit Ashley’s head on the carpet. He said the word carpet four times throughout the interview. In the small clips of Ming Ming Chen’s police interview that we see, the word carpet isn’t mentioned once. It was reported by quite a few newspapers that prosecutors claimed that Ming Ming Chen struck or punched Ashley. We don’t hear the word ‘punch’ in any footage of either Chen or Zhao’s interviews. 

That’s another problem; we don’t see anything in full as we do Liang Zhao’s. The longest continuous video showing Ming Ming Chen’s interview I’ve being able to find is only a couple of minutes at the most. In a couple of the clips we do see Chen initially denying knowledge of what happened to Ashley and it was reported that her ‘confession’ was over an hour into the interview, which we also know was when an interpreter wasn’t present. I think Ming ming’s ‘confession’ could have been fed to her, given the circumstances. 

There are two things in the video clips of her confession that might hint to this. The first is when the investigator asks Did you hit her? When he asks this he mimes a downward hitting motion with his right hand and fist is clenched. Chen replies ‘yeah’ and then he asks ‘how did you kill her?’ Chen asks ‘how?’ and the interviewer answers ‘yeah’. Ming Ming Chen then replies quote, ‘With your hand to do that,’ end quote and when she says this she mimes the exact same downward hitting action with her right hand as the investigator had done just moments before. 

The other thing I noticed here was that Chen said ‘With your hand’ not ‘With my hand’ it was as if she were describing the action that the officer just did, not her own actions when she killed her daughter.

I don’t think it’s too wild to think that Liang Zhao might have had more to do with Ashley’s death than just the coverup of his wife’s actions.

If Liang Zhao was more involved and Ming Ming Chen believed she would be deported anyway, she may have taken the brunt of blame so that at least one parent would be free in the US to be with JoJo some time in the future. Ming Ming Chen was regularly absent from the restaurant; Ang’s Facebook page is full of posts from Zhao saying that his wife was unwell and cannot work, a couple of people have commented on the page that he might have been beating his wife. The insanity defense Chen’s attorney tried was connected to battered woman syndrome – I really don’t like the name of that, I think it needs updating, but anyway – battered woman syndrome is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder. If Zhao was violent to his wife, Chen may have feared him and would have been more likely to do as he says.

In Ohio, there’s a law that grants journalists access to coronary reports which wouldn’t usually be considered public record. The Beacon Journal reported that the coroner’s office was advised by the prosecutor’s office in this case, not to provide reports to journalists. The reason given was because they were part of a police investigation, which makes sense for back then, but I wasn’t able to find that a report was later given to journalists once investigations had concluded. I’m just interested in what it says – if the coronary report says there was bruising on Ashley’s chest and or abdomen for example, that could corroborate Liang Zhao’ claims of giving CPR. 

Even if Ashley’s autopsy report were available, I still think there are only two people who will ever know what really happened when she died. And we’ve already seen how they can lie to authorities, so I don’t trust either of them to ever give an honest account of their part in Ashley’s death.

Thank you for listening to the first episode of Turned Up Dead. 

Remember, if you listen carefully, even the words of liars will tell you the truth.

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