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Mom charged with murder
Daughter, 4, drowned in tub last year
Arrest 'so unexpected,' husband says

Toronto Star, by TRACY HUFFMAN AND NICHOLAS KEUNG, STAFF REPORTERS, Mar. 2, 2005

When they saw homicide officers at their Scarborough home Monday afternoon, Scarlett Chen's parents thought they were going to be updated on the drowning of their four-year-old daughter last year.

Instead police arrested the girl's mother, Xuan Peng, 33, and charged her with first-degree murder.

"We were surprised that they were here to arrest my wife. It was so unexpected," Peng's husband, David Chen, told a reporter with the Toronto Star's sister newspaper, Sing Tao, yesterday.

Chen said he and his wife have co-operated with police since Scarlett's death on July 12, 2004, in their home on Rosebank Dr. in the Markham Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. area. Since her death, both parents have been interviewed by police — Peng three times and Chen twice, Chen said in his native Mandarin in an interview with Sing Tao reporter Percta Lam.

Chen insisted that his wife, a student at Centennial College taking English language courses, did not kill their only child.

"My wife put the girl to sleep and went on to put some clothes in the tub. She was planning to wash the clothes later. The tub was half full. She didn't know how the girl would get into the tub. It was an accident. My wife is innocent," Chen said.

Chen said he and his mother-in-law had been out that night, visiting a friend, a new immigrant from China who had just had a baby.

"The cause of death was drowning but I can't get into the mechanics of it," said Det. Ray Zarb of the homicide squad.

A person is charged with first-degree murder when police believe a killing was planned and deliberate, according to the Criminal Code.

Shortly after Scarlett's death, Peng told police she put her daughter to bed around 6:30 p.m. When Chen arrived home shortly afterward, he found his daughter submerged in a bathtub filled with laundry and water. The tub was in a bathroom adjacent to the little girl's room in the three-storey townhouse unit.

Attempts to revive the girl by paramedics were unsuccessful. Scarlett was pronounced dead at hospital shortly after 8 p.m.

Peng and Chen moved from China about five years ago and have lived in the Rosebank Dr. townhouse for about two years. Scarlett and Peng's mother joined them about a year and a half ago, according to one family friend.

To supplement their income, they have rented the third floor of their home to Centennial College students.

At the time of the death, a neighbour told Sing Tao that Scarlett had language difficulties and she didn't play with other children her age, but enjoyed riding her bike in a nearby park. The grandmother had told the family friend the girl was autistic, the friend said.

Peng missed a scheduled court appearance yesterday after suffering a medical emergency some time after her arrest that required hospitalization. Zarb refused to discuss details of her medical condition. He said Peng co-operated when police arrested her. Chen said his wife went directly to a Scarborough hospital after her arrest.

Peng's mother, a former gymnast for Hunan province, from where the family hails, said her daughter suffered from depression after Scarlett was born.

"She had been on medication but she has recovered," the woman said. "My daughter is innocent. Little Scarlett was so lovely. She was their own child; why would she have the heart to kill her?"

Peng's lawyer, Ed Hung, said his client had no indication that she was going to be charged. He would not disclose any further details relating to his client's health. Hung said sometimes there's a delay in the process when a person is not fit to make a court appearance.

The arrest, more than seven months after Scarlett's death, was the result of combining evidence gathered over time, said Zarb. He said the arrest was not the result of new information.

"There's nothing unusual about an arrest months later. Sometimes the collection of evidence takes that long," he said.

Peng is to appear in College Park court Monday