Oxford man pleads guilty to animal cruelty, told to return to China

A former Miami University student pleaded guilty to felony animal cruelty Thursday in Butler County Common Pleas Court, and a condition of his sentence is that he return to China as soon as possible.

Hangming Zhang, 22, formerly of South College Avenue, was indicted for cruelty to companion animals, a fifth-degree felony, in December and has been housed in the Butler County Jail on a $25,000 bond. He was in the county on a student visa, and after the arrest he was also placed on a holder by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Oxford police on Nov. 25 dispatched an animal control officer to Fox and Hounds Apartments on Foxfire Drive to investigate a deceased dog confined in a cage.

Zhang kept the dog in an unoccupied apartment, investigators said. Police said he last cared for the dog on Oct. 13 but never returned.

Zhang pleaded guilty to the charge, but the hearing and preparation took several hours as he asked to consult with his attorney, John Li, multiple times before moving forward. Li spoke with his client in his native language of Mandarin, and an interpreter was also present for the hearing.

Assistant Prosecutor Dan Phillips said Zhang caused the dog to “starve and die.” Li said Zhang was trying do a friend a favor by taking care of the pet while she was away. He has never owned a pet and has no experience with pets, his attorney said.

“It was not his dog, he wanted to make use of the opportunity to do a good deed. There was miscommunication with the dog’s owner,” the defense attorney said. “Mr. Zhang is very sorry about what happened to the animal, when he learned about it he was very distraught.”

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Zhang also apologized and said, “I am very, very sorry. I am so sorry the dog died.”

Judge Keith Spaeth sentenced Zhang to 56 days in the county jail with credit for time served. The judge noted the maximum sentence is 12 months in prison, but he could not impose that sentence in the case because Zhang has no prior record as well as other factors.

“I am mandated to sentence him to community control,” Spaeth said.

As part of Zhang’s community control, Spaeth ordered that he leave the country within 48 hours after being released from the ICE holder.

Li and Phillips pointed out because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, availability of flights to China are uncertain. The judge then said Zhang must book the first available flight.

Delta announced Friday that it is temporarily suspending all flights to China beginning Thursday through April 30 due to ongoing concerns related to the coronavirus.

Zhang attended Miami University in Oxford from 2015 to 2018, and then re-enrolled in 2019 before leaving again on Nov. 19, according to school records.

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