Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016 | 1:01 a.m.
ROWLAND HEIGHTS, Calif. — Three students from China who attend high school in Southern California will plead no contest to criminal charges and spend years in jail for bullying a classmate they allegedly stripped, kicked with high heels, slapped and burned with cigarettes.
Yunyao "Helen" Zhai, Yuhan "Coco" Yang and Xinlei "John" Zhang agreed to a plea deal this week that will remove the risk of their being sentenced to life in prison for torture, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
The 19-year-olds will plead no contest to kidnapping and assault. Zhai will be sentenced to 13 years in prison, Yang to 10 and Zhang to six at a hearing next month, prosecutor Casey Jarvis told the paper.
The trio was charged with being part of a group of teenagers who attacked an 18-year-old classmate last March after several Chinese high school girls got into an argument over a restaurant bill.
The woman testified that she was forced to use her hands to wipe cigarette butts and ice cream smears from the floor of an ice cream parlor in Rowland Heights, east of Los Angeles.
The woman said she was then taken to a nearby park, stripped, kicked with high heels, slapped hundreds of times and burned with cigarettes.
Her hair was cut and she was forced to eat it, the woman testified.
Attorneys for Zhai and Yang previously said their clients took part in the attack. Zhang's attorney had said his client was a bystander.
At their preliminary hearing, a judge said the case reminded him of "Lord of the Flies," a novel by William Golding in which boys stranded on an island revert to savagery.
The plea deal and a 10-year sentence was the best resolution for Yang, said her attorney, Rayford Fountain.
"It was too much of a risk to go to trial," he said.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office agreed to drop the torture charges because the teenagers had no criminal histories, Jarvis said.
"We felt in the interest of justice it was the right thing to do," Jarvis explained.
The teens and the victim are among thousands of so-called "parachute kids" who leave their parents in China while they study in California, living in private homes and paying their hosts for room and board.
Many live in San Gabriel Valley cities east of Los Angeles.