There have been major developments in the case of Nan-Hui Jo, the Korean American survivor of domestic violence who fled with her young child to Korea to escape a dangerous and abusive relationship, only to face kidnapping charges when she returned to the United States for a visit.
Earlier this year, Jo was retried on charges that she kidnapped her daughter — her first trial ended in a hung jury. Jo’s abuser, who is her daughter’s father, claims that Jo’s escape to Korea violated his parental access. Yet, at the time of Jo’s departure, she was facing loss of legal immigration status and was facing deportation. Jo’s abuser, Jesse Charlton — an Iraq war veteran — confessed that at the time he was unemployed, emotionally unstable due to largely untreated PTSD and substance abuse, and was not prepared to assume full-time custody of their daughter. Facing the possibility that she would become an undocumented immigrant (and therefore unable to obtain work) and fearing for her and her daughter’s safety if they remained within Charlton’s influence, Nan-Hui Jo did what conservatives dream of: she “self-deported” with her child.
A protester holds a sign in support of Nan-Hui Jo. Photo credit: Down Like JTown
While in Korea, Jo received several emails from Charlton demanding that she return their daughter to the United States. While most emails were pleading in tone, in one email, Charlton threatened to send a mutual friend — a “scary” bounty hunter who had taken lives in the Iraq War and whom both were aware had allegedly raped his wife — to find her. Frightened by these emails, Jo further distanced herself from Charlton and refused to respond to him. Last year, when Jo applied for a travel visa to visit the United States to tour schools for her daughter, who is an American citizen, was Jo arrested and charged with kidnapping.
Jo’s retrial galvanized the Korean American community and domestic violence advocates. Jo’s supporters argue that the charges against Jo — whose abuser confessed on the witness stand to grabbing Jo by the throat and throwing her against a wall — are punitive retribution for steps Jo felt were necessary to protect the physical safety of herself and her child.
In some studies, up to 2/3rds of Asian American women say that they have experienced domestic abuse in their marriages.
Confoundingly, Jo was found guilty last month on the kidnapping charges, even after one juror was permitted to recuse herself on the grounds that returning a guilty verdict in the case would be immoral and unjust. Next Tuesday, Jo faces sentencing and possible deportation, which would likely prevent Nan-Hui Jo from having further contact with her daughter for (at the very least) the rest of the child’s upbringing.
That verdict may be an interpretation of what the law expects, but it is not what justice looks like.
However, there is new hope in this case.
Late last month, Nan-Hui Jo’s defense was taken up by high-powered lawyer Dennis Riordan, whom the Davis Vanguard characterizes as “among the best known defense attorneys in the state, having represented, among others, Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson and Lodi terrorism suspect Hamid Hayat.”
Riordan has hit the ground running. After filing a 4-week continuance on the sentencing so that he could familiarize himself with the case, Riordan has now filed a motion to set aside Nan-Hui Jo’s guilty verdict, citing “multiple, serious legal errors” in Jo’s second trial.
Riordan’s motion charges that the judge in Jo’s case — Judge David Rosenberg — made a fatal error in jury instructions that led to Jo’s wrongful guilty verdict. The kidnapping charge that Jo was found guilty of requires that the kidnapper exhibit “malice” in committing the act. There are legal precedents that guide the determination of “malice”.
Riordan contends that the judge erroneously instructed the jury to define the term “malice” by a broader meaning; one that did not require that Jo be aware that she might be deliberately breaking a law when she removed her daughter from the country. Yet, Riordan says that this broader definition of “malice” was misapplied with regard to the particular charges in the Jo case leading jurors to the wrong interpretation of the law. Reports the Davis Vanguard:
In commenting on this motion, blogger David Greenwald who runs the Davis Vanguard said:
It remains to be seen whether or not Riordan’s motion will result in an overturning of Jo’s guilty verdict.
However, what is clear from Greenwald’s editorial on the Davis Vanguard that justice has not yet been found in this case. Greenwald, whose website has been maintaining a courtwatch of the trial proceedings, lays out the legal and moral Catch-22 that Nan-Hui Jo faced when she made the impossible decision to escape her relationship; her circumstances defy the notion that she acted recklessly and with malice intent in removing herself and her daughter from the situation. In fact, from Jo’s perspective, she was acting in compliance with federal law.
One can only hope that Riordan’s influence on Nan-Hui Jo’s defense will finally shine that necessary light on this domestic violence survivor’s plight. However, given how this case has attracted all matter of domestic violence apologists who express a breathtaking range of defenses for domestic abuse, I hope you can forgive my fears. For far too many, it’s easier to find an American male abuser more sympathetic than his victim, a foreign-born non-English-speaking woman of colour.
Campaigns to support Nan-Hui Jo remain active through these latest developments. A letter-writing campaign is ongoing to provide Nan-Hui Jo with much-needed emotional support and strength from the community. Meanwhile, organizers are also asking that supporters in the area pack the courtroom next Tuesday, April 28th, during Nan-Hui Jo’s sentencing. They write in the Pack the Courtroom Facebook event:
Help is needed to apply pressure to Immigration & Customs Enforcement and Customs & Border Protection, asking that the deportation proceedings against Nan-Hui Jo be dropped: in addition to phone calls and emails, you can sign this petition and participate in an ongoing Twitterstorm to @icegov and @CustomsBorder.
Please also tweet all of your action to #StandWithNanHui.
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Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!