Backstory: Language at issue in alleged rape case: Ex-UMass student wants statements tossed, citing lack of interpreter

Last modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Lawyers for a former University of Massachusetts student are seeking to have statements he gave to police thrown out due, in part, to a language barrier the night of his arrest on sexual assault charges.

In a motion filed in Hampshire Superior Court, attorneys for Weilang Wang, 19, of 36 Greenleaf Drive, Apt. 40, Hadley, say their client’s statements were not voluntary, he did not knowingly waive his right to counsel during questioning and he was not properly advised of his Miranda rights before his interview with police.

Wang, a Chinese national whose first language is Mandarin, was arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus on Feb. 19, 2013.

Wang has pleaded not guilty to charges of rape and three counts of indecent assault and battery in connection with the incident. It is Gazette policy not to name victims or alleged victims of sexual assaults.

According to the motion, Wang was not afforded a Mandarin interpreter the night of his arrest — although the alleged victim was given that service — and some of what police transcribed into Wang’s statements were words and phrases they suggested, not the ones he uttered.

According to the motion filed by attorney John Connor of Greenfield, during the approximately 2½-hour interview with police, Wang indicated to them on at least nine occasions he did not understand words or phrases the officers were using.

“Much of the statement are phrases, terms and words that are suggested,” by police and “some of those words and phrases are absolutely crucial to the question of whether Wang’s purported actions constitute a crime,” part of the motion reads.

In an affidavit filed in court, Wang provided a copy of his SAT scores from December 2011 that show very low scores in English reading comprehension and writing.

In his affidavit, Wang said he did not understand his rights during his arrest, had never heard of Miranda warnings — advising suspects of their right to remain silent and to have an attorney — and believed he was required to speak to police and would be forced to do so if he protested.

According to court files, the alleged victim said she and Wang had been socializing for about a month before the alleged assault. However, she told Wang she had no romantic interest in him because she already had a boyfriend.

About 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19, 2013, the two were studying in his room when the alleged victim became tired and Wang offered to let her nap in his bed.

The woman said after about 30 minutes, Wang climbed into bed with her, began kissing her, removed her pants, fondled and assaulted her, according to court records.

The woman protested, and at one point Wang was sitting on top of her and gave the woman her cell phone so she could call her boyfriend and tell him what happened, which she did, according to her statement to police.

The woman told Wang she would contact police if he continued the assault, and he allegedly replied, “I’ll go to the police department with you,” according to court files.

Wang called the police himself and told them he wanted to speak with an officer because he “attempted to rape someone,” according to court records.

According to the woman’s statement to police, Wang agreed to call the police himself because she did not know what English words to use to describe what happened.

Wang waited with the woman for police to arrive, according to court records.

A hearing on the motion to suppress Wang’s statements had been scheduled for Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court but was postponed to March 7 because a translator was delayed en route from Boston due to traffic and weather.

Wang is free on $7,500 bail and must remain at least 100 yards away from the alleged victim, surrender his passport and stay off the UMass campus.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.