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Former visiting grad student pleads guilty to murder

Yongfei Ci could face several decades in prison

Former visiting mathematics graduate student Yongfei Ci pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of his ex-girlfriend, Mengchen Huang, last fall, reported the News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois. Ci faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison. Huang was found dead in her Urbana, Illinois, apartment Sept. 27.

Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Ziegler agreed to drop the other charges against Ci: home invasion and aggravated kidnapping, the latter filed because Ci held Huang’s roommate, Xue Yang, in a bathroom for several hours, binding her with duct tape, the News-Gazette reported. Ci assaulted Huang in another room, tying her hands and feet with a rope, beating her and cursing at her before ultimately stabbing Huang in the throat at least six times, according to accounts Yang and Ci provided police and medical examinations.

Both Chinese citizens studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ci and Huang dated until around Sept. 1, the News-Gazette reported. Ci left for Providence around Sept. 5. Huang entered into a new relationship in late September, and Ci would often attempt to contact Huang via phone or text, according to cellphone records, the News-Gazette reported.

A PhD student in mathematics, Ci was one of several grad students from the University of Illinois visiting last fall with Brown’s Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, The Herald reported at the time.

Ci admitted to becoming angry with Huang for entering into another relationship and to subsequently buying a pellet gun, knives, rope and duct tape online and in Providence before he drove to Huang’s Illinois apartment, the News-Gazette reported.

"I was angry, disappointed and thought there would be no chance for us to get back together, so, so I decided to come here and, um, and to kill her," Ci said in a statement to the police, according to the News-Gazette.

After freeing herself, Yang reported the murder to the police, who used cellphone technology to locate Ci at a nearby motel, the Huffington Post reported at the time. He surrendered without protest.

At Brown, Ci studied in a program called “low-dimensional topology, geometry and dynamics” comprising visiting professors, postdoctoral students and grad students, The Herald previously reported. Richard Schwartz, professor of mathematics and program organizer, told The Herald last fall that the crime seemed to be unrelated to Ci’s time at Brown.

“He appeared to be quite normal and did not seem to be such a terrible person,” wrote Hengnan Hu, Ci’s fellow visitor-in-residence, in an email to The Herald Oct. 3. Hu noticed that Ci had been missing for more than 36 hours, after calling him but receiving no reply.

Because of Ci’s guilty plea, Ziegler will cap his sentencing recommendation to 50 years in prison, the News-Gazette reported. Ci must serve the entirety of any sentence Judge Heidi Ladd imposes June 18.


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Hengnan Hu was the first person to notice Yongfei Ci's disappearance. The Herald regrets the error.



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