Lalchan told authorities that she was afraid Christopher Lalchan, 36, was going to kill her. During her Superior Court trial, she took the witness stand, sobbing at times, and testified that her husband often wrapped his hands around her throat during fits of rage. But then, she said, she decided to fight back.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright argued in court Friday that Diana Lalchan had fabricated the domestic abuse allegations. She said Lalchan wanted to leave her husband but did not want to pay alimony or shame her parents and wanted to live a new, single life as a lesbian.
Wright said there was no sign of a struggle and no 911 call from Lalchan before the shooting asking for help and no hospital or police records of abuse.
“She learned her true sexual identity later in life and was in an environment that did not allow her to be her true self. So she developed a plan, all of which led to this shooting,” Wright said.
Wright said she initially believed that Lalchan was a victim of abuse. She said she changed her mind after examining some 52,000 emails between Lalchan and friends in which, Wright said, Lalchan hatched a plan to get out of her marriage.
The trial jury rejected the original charge of first-degree murder. Jurors said they believed Lalchan had been abused but concluded that her reaction was extreme.
Diana Lalchan fired three shots at her husband that evening. Wright argued that Christopher Lalchan was not struck by the first two shots but took cover. It was while he was on the floor, Wright said, citing the trajectory of the bullet that struck him, that Diana Lalchan fired the fatal shot.
Lalchan, as she did during her sentencing Friday, sobbed on the witness stand while talking about her life with her husband.
She said she lost “the only person I had in the world” that day. “He was all I had. He was my world,” she said. “But he lost control of himself. And because I did not love myself, I believed I deserved the treatment I endured.”
After the sentencing, Christopher Lalchan’s family expressed disappointment at the sentence. “We did not get justice,” his mother, Pearl, said.
“This was more painful than the trial,” Christopher Lalchan’s brother Mark added.
They both flew in from Trinidad in the Caribbean for the hearing.
Addressing members of the Lalchan family, Judge Ronna L. Beck said she was “sorry” for their loss, which she said she was sure was “immeasurable.”
But Beck also said that in 24 years on the bench, she had never received so many letters of support on behalf of a defendant in a murder case, nodding to the dozens of family members and friends sitting on one side of the courtroom.
Although prosecutors asked Beck to sentence Lalchan to at least 15 years, the judge said such a lengthy sentence was not warranted. Lalchan had to be sentenced to at least five years in prison, which was a mandatory minimum for using a gun during a crime of violence in the District.
Beck praised Lalchan for working with women in the jail, as her attorneys described. “I hope you continue to be a positive force and a major contributor to other women. You have good qualities and considerable talents and can be a positive role in the community,” the judge said.
Before finalizing her sentence, Beck asked Lalchan’s attorneys whether they wanted Lalchan sent to a particular prison so she could reflect that in her recommendation to Federal Bureau of Prisons. One of Lalchan’s attorneys requested a prison in Connecticut.
Then Lalchan’s attorneys requested that their client be given the opportunity to hug her elderly grandmother, who came from Taiwan to attend the hearing. Beck referred the request to the U.S. marshals in the court, who rejected the request.
But after the majority of spectators had left the courtroom, and after Beck left the bench, a U.S. marshal allowed Lalchan’s grandmother to be escorted to the cellblock to greet the prisoner, two people familiar with the incident said. A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said he was looking into the matter.