THE BOAT PEOPLE TRIAL Defense slams US gov’t

Posted on Oct 04 1999

Defense attorneys on Friday lambasted the federal government for filing “serious charges” against six Chinese men who they said were only guilty of desiring to be in the United States.

The defense panel also accused the US government of taking advantage of the “desperation” of six material witnesses who had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in hopes of being rewarded with asylum.

There was no conspiracy. All they wanted was to come to America. They were desperate, and they would do anything to reach their common end. They were all victims. Victims of an ugly situation. Of the snake heads gang. Of the federal government. These sum up the defense panel’s closing arguments.

“It has been a story—a sad story with a movie script, soon to be out on VHS,” defense lawyer William Campbell said.

Spicing up his arguments with a visual metaphor, Campbell stood in front of the jury holding a wood duck figurine— a sequel to a raw piece of rectangular wood which he showed to the jury at the opening of the trial two weeks ago.

The prosecution, Campbell said, “chipped the wood to shape the case” in a way that it wanted the jury to see and believe what had happened.

Campbell was making reference to the US government’s decision to repatriate to China 31 other passengers, one of whom he said was a potential witness who could help exonerate the defendants.

“This may look like a duck, but things aren’t always what they appear to be. Parts were cut away from the wood to live the shape of a duck. This was just like the way the US government shaped this case by sending 31 of the potential witnesses back to China before the defendants had been given counsel,” Campbell said.

The jury will start deliberation after defense attorney Linda Wingenbaugh and Assistant US Atty. Gregory Baka rest the defense’s and the prosecution’s respective arguments today.

The six defendants were charged with conspiracy to smuggle aliens, alien smuggling for profit, and attempted alien smuggling into a place other than the designated port.

The six — He Xi Di, Shi Guo Rui, Gao Liang, Xue Jian Hui, Shi Peng, He Xiu Jin—were among the 51 people of the fifth boat interdicted by the US Coast Guard while sailing toward Guam.

Lawyer Eric Smith said the trial did not establish any conspiracy.

“The witnesses’ testimonies did not indicate that people got together to plan something. What we have are only bits of information that are totally different from another,” Smith said.

He added that the six defendants, like everyone else in the boat, were “nothing more than passengers who had no control of the ship.”

Smith said the US government could have charged the defendants with a more simple case for entering a US territory, which carries only a maximum penalty of six months in jail.

“Instead of filing a crummy misdemeanor, the US government wanted sexier felonies,” Smith said.

The defense panel also noted “major inconsistencies” in the testimonies of the prosecution’s six material witnesses.

Lawyer Ben Salas noted that one witness claimed he was beaten up by his client. It turned out that the person accused of beating up the witness was sleeping at the time the incident supposedly took place.

Attorney Cindy Adams said the defense could not give credence to the witnesses’ claim that the “enforcers” ordered them to use the radio to call their families in China and tell them to produce more money to pay the snake heads.

She said she wondered how 51 passengers on the boat could be running back and forth to the radio room, and how could their families in China get away from the snake head if they didn’t pay the first time the money was demanded?

Adams said, however, the six material witnesses could not be blamed.

“The material witnesses were themselves victims, and more victimized than anybody else. They were victimized by the US government because they were given false hopes,” Adams said.

The boat people’s agony did not start in Fujian Province, Adams said.

“The story started in Tinian when INS people started going around the camp, showing mugshots and asking people to pick which ones were the crewmen, and the enforcers,” Adams said.

Federal authorities later started separating the aliens into different groups that determined which were to be the defendants, the material witnesses, the ones to be sent back to China, and the ones to be sent to the United States for asylum processing.

“They were desperate, frustrated and fearful, not knowing what’s going on and what would come next,” Adams said. (MCM)

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