An Ohio mother last week pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to allegations that she murdered her 5-year-old daughter in January

By Madison Rossi
October 16, 2017 07:24 PM
Credit: Jackson Township Police

An Ohio mother last week pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to allegations that she murdered her 5-year-old daughter in January, PEOPLE confirms.

MingMing Chen, 29, is scheduled to be tried on charges of murder, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, gross abuse of a corpse and two counts of endangering children in connection with the death of her daughter, Ashley Zhao, according to the court clerk’s office in Stark County, Ohio.

The girl’s body was found hidden in the family’s Chinese restaurant one day after her parents reported her missing.

Authorities allege Chen, of Canton, Ohio, hit Ashley early on Jan. 9, causing fatal injuries before her parents concealed her body.

Chen entered her plea during a court hearing on Thursday. Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Liang Zhao, the girl’s father, pleaded guilty in the case on Sept. 11. He admitted to gross abuse of a corpse, obstructing justice, tampering with evidence and two counts of endangering children, the prosecutor’s office previously confirmed to PEOPLE.

A murder charge against him was dropped.

Zhao agreed to testify against his wife under a plea deal and will be sentenced after her trial has concluded, the court clerk’s office confirms to PEOPLE. As part of the plea agreement, he will be sentenced to 12 years in prison, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

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From left: MingMing Chen and Liang Zhao.
| Credit: Stark County, Ohio, Jail

Ashley’s mother and father were arrested soon after authorities in North Canton, Ohio, found her on Jan. 10 “deceased and concealed” inside the family’s Ang’s Asian Cuisine restaurant, according to police records.

Chen and Zhao had contacted authorities about 9 p.m. on Jan. 9 to report that their daughter had disappeared. Their call triggered a statewide search for Ashley, but her body was discovered by police the next day.

Investigators have not said where the girl’s remains were hidden, exactly. They suspect she was already dead when she was reported missing.

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Around 9:15 a.m. on Jan. 9, Chen allegedly “did strike her daughter … several times with her right fist,” according to booking information at the Stark County Jail, where the parents were initially held.

“The victim suffered injuries to her body which caused her death,” those records stated.

Zhao “found the victim had her head struck on the floor twice,” allegedly by her mother, and unsuccessfully attempted to revive her via CPR, according to the records.