Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Update on the 'he said-he said' sexual assault case lodged against Korean barber

UPDATE: NOT GUILTY

There won't be any physical evidence introduced in the sexual assault trial of Jung Gon Kim, which we reported on yesterday.  You will recall that this is the case where the teen boy who accused his barber of sexually assaulting him returned to get another haircut after the alleged assault because the haircut was free, and this time, he brought a witness. (That witness, a 13-year-old neighbor, took the stand yesterday and testified that he actually left the shop while the accuser was still there.)

You will also recall that the prosecutor, Jennifer Ritter, told the jurors that to find the barber guilty of sexually assaulting the teen boy, they should trust their "instincts." She said: “Your instincts are going to be very important in this case.” We took issue with a prosecutor inviting jurors to bypass their dispassionate reason and instead convict a 54-year-old immigrant based on gut reactions.  Ritter also told jurors they would have to ask themselves: “Do you believe this 14-year-old boy came to court and put himself through all of this if it wasn’t true?” We noted that COTWA can proffer many, many examples of accusers who put themselves "through all of this" even though it wasn't true.

Yesterday, the testimony revealed that there is no physical evidence of any assault, and this case is nothing more than a "he said-he said" claim. Prosecutors contend that in mid-October, the barber allegedly sexually assaulted his then 13-year-old male customer in a storage room in the salon, propping the boy up against a coffee table. Crime scene technician Lynne Olsen said yesterday that during the crime investigation, she was directed to take fingerprints from bookshelves in the storage room, but not from the coffee table. When prosecutor Jennifer Ritter asked Det. Kimberly Bennett if, based on the information she had at the time, she should have asked Olsen to look for prints on the coffee table, Bennett replied, “Yes, I should have. It was my mistake. I just didn’t think of it.”

In addition, Dr. Wendy Lane, a consultant with the Childcare Advocacy Center of Howard County, said that an exam of the boy did not reveal any signs of trauma, though that did not mean he had not been assaulted.

So why was this case brought to trial?  Consider this: the defendant is a 54-year-old Korean male who needs a translator even to follow the trial. In contrast, Det. Bennett called the alleged victim “very well-groomed, polite, well spoken; a nice kid.” The boy's testimony apparently confirmed this impression: at the trial, the defense counsel said to the boy: “The reason you’re having trouble remembering is because it didn’t happen.”  According to the news report of the trial, the boy answered in a clear voice and looked straight ahead: "It did happen.” 

In short, the boy makes a good witness, and the defendant is an easy target to be demonized as a sexual creep.

It would be an injustice to allow a sexual assaulter who preyed on a child to go free. It would be a greater injustice to convict a man of a vile sex crime based on disputed evidence, just because the prosecutor could.