A New York City man who fatally struck a 61-year-old Chinese woman with a rock in an unprovoked attack in November 2021 was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison.
Elisaul Perez, 33, of Brooklyn, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Queens County Criminal Court last month for the killing of Guiying Ma in Jackson Heights, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.
Ma had been sweeping the sidewalk and street outside a friend’s home at about 8 a.m. on November 26, 2021, when Perez picked up a large rock and struck her in the head, the district attorney said. She fell and Perez then struck her in the head again, Katz said.
Ma was taken to a hospital and had emergency surgery for severe head trauma and brain injuries but died from her injuries in February. Perez was arrested the day after the attack.
The killing was one of a number of unprovoked attacks on Asian people in the last few years that experts said stemmed from anti-Asian bias connected to the Covid-19 pandemic. The New York Police Department created the Asian Hate Crime Task Force in 2020, and NYPD data shows there 133 anti-Asian bias incidents in 2021.
In court Tuesday, Perez made no statement. When he walked into the courtroom, he acknowledged someone in the room and made a smirk at them, and when he exited in handcuffs he also looked back at this individual and frowned. Defense attorney David Strachan said he had nothing to note other than they relied on the promise Perez would be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Jennifer Wu, an attorney for Ma’s family, read a translated statement in court from Ma’s widower, Zhanxin Gao, saying that they felt at home in New York City prior to the attack.
“The five years in New York that I lived here gave us a deep affection for the city,” she read. “We felt welcomed by the people here.”
But the attack on his wife strained his relationship with his son and mother-in-law, and he has since moved back to China. Perez’s actions “took away the love of my life, the mother to my son … and took away, for me, my life in this country.”
Yihung Hsieh, a family friend and the owner of the Jackson Heights property, also spoke in court and said Gao used to be a happy man, but “the tragedy that happened to Ma hit him very hard,” Hsieh said.
“When I sent video to him he can’t stop crying … the tears and painful memory couldn’t stop,” he said.
Last year, Hsieh set up a GoFundMe page to help cover Ma’s medical expenses and posted updates about her health after the attack. Ma had come to New York from Liaoning, China, four years earlier, and her husband worked in a restaurant cleaning, Hsieh wrote. Their son and two grandchildren remained in China, he wrote.
“She will be remembered as an outgoing, friendly and kind individual who took care of everyone, and insisted on giving to others even when she had very little to give,” Hsieh wrote in the post.
Katz, the district attorney, said outside court she hoped the case brought closure to the victim’s family.
“Today was about justice but it was also about closure for the Ma family,” she said. “We were pleased that they were involved, the family friends were involved, and that we were able to keep in constant communication with the family, and with the community that supported them so wholeheartedly.”
CNN’s Amir Vera and Liam Reilly contributed to this report.