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Visiting student may face murder charges

It may take a year for the trial of Yongfei Ci, who allegedly murdered his ex-girlfriend, to begin

Visiting mathematics graduate student Yongfei Ci, arrested for allegedly stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death last Friday, was arraigned Monday. He will face a preliminary hearing Oct. 22, said Nedra Lafenhagen, clerk at the Champaign County Satellite Jail in Illinois, where Ci is currently in custody.

Ci was arrested Friday after Mengchen Huang was reported murdered in her apartment in Urbana, Ill., by a female friend who was present at the time of the crime. The police used cellphone technology to track Ci to a nearby motel, where he surrendered without conflict.

Ci, a sixth-year graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was a visiting student this semester at Brown’s Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics.

The Urbana Police Department has launched an ongoing investigation, said Lieutenant Richard Surles. Official information has not yet been released about Ci’s motive, he added.

One of Ci’s fellow researchers at Brown noticed last Thursday that Ci had been missing for more than 36 hours.

“I tried to call him immediately. There was no reply,” wrote fellow visitor-in-residence Hengnan Hu in an email to The Herald. “Then I texted a short message to him and received his reply about 40 minutes later. He told me he just traveled for a few days and he was fine.”

Hu was browsing Chinese news online Sunday when he discovered Ci was implicated in a homicide, he wrote.

“He appeared to be quite normal and did not seem to be such a terrible person,” Hu wrote.

At the University, Ci was part of a group of visiting professors, post-doctoral students and graduate students studying in a program called “Low-dimensional topology, geometry and dynamics,” said Richard Schwartz, professor of mathematics and organizer of the program.

Since its founding in 2011, the ICERM has chosen a new research theme each semester and invited professors and researchers with specialties related to the theme to stay on campus and perform research, Schwartz said.

The ICERM selected applicants based on the “relevance (of their research) to the program and quality of the applicant,” Schwartz said, adding that the procedure is “less formal” than the application process for graduate students who will complete their PhD at the University.

The crime “seems to be unrelated to his life at Brown or ICERM,” Schwartz said.

In Illinois, Ci will face more hearings and a trial in the near future.

The Oct. 22 preliminary hearing will give the prosecution and defense a chance to officially meet in court and bring forth any motions to suppress, Lafenhagen said. The pre-trial will follow Nov. 19.

“It usually takes a good nine months to a year” for the actual trial and jury selection process to begin, Lafenhagen said.

Champaign County’s public defender, Randall Rosenbaum, will represent Ci at trial, according to a secretary at Champaign County’s Office of the Public Defender.

The criminal justice systems in Urbana — the site of the crime — and neighboring city Champaign will handle the proceedings. With a combined population of approximately 130,000 people, the two cities have about 10 total homicides per year, Surles said.

“The vast majority of the homicides we work with are not domestic-related homicides,” Surles said, adding that this sort of case, though not unheard of, is unusual for his department.



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