Jurors start deliberating in Chen’s trial

Assistant US attorney asserts it’s insulting to say defendant’s presence was only accidental

Jurors yesterday started deliberating in the trial of Zhaopeng Chen, one of three defendants charged in federal court over the conspiracy in the shipment of 4.9 lbs. of methamphetamine or “ice.”

The 12 jurors will resume deliberations today, Wednesday, at 8am.

In the U.S. government’s closing arguments yesterday, assistant U.S. attorney Garth Backe repeatedly tapped the big package of the seized “ice” that he displayed in front of the jurors and stated that it’s insulting to say that Chen’s presence was only accidental.

Backe said co-defendant Xi Huang picked up Chen two hours before the other co-defendant, Shicheng Cai, picked up the nine paint buckets, including one that supposed to contain “ice,” from Sunleader Market’s warehouse near As Terlaje Hill.

“The truth makes sense, lies do not,” Backe said.

The prosecutor said Chen helped in picking up the drugs in a short period of time, but he is still guilty as to the charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

In Chen’s closing arguments, attorney David G. Banes asked the jurors to free Chen and let him return to his family.

“He [Chen] has suffered long enough. Find him not guilty,” Banes said.

Banes said the prosecution relied on assumption rather than evidence.

“This is not justice. Our system should work better than this,” he said.

Banes pointed out that co-defendants Huang and Cai both testified that they had no agreement with Chen regarding the “ice” shipment.

The indictment charged Cheng, Huang, and Cai with conspiracy with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Huang and Cai pleaded guilty.

Huang, who was tagged as the leader of the group, was recently slapped with 188 months imprisonment. Cai has yet to be sentenced.

Customs inspectors discovered the contraband hidden in one of nine paint buckets during a routine inspection of a shipping container on Dec. 2, 2015.

Local and federal enforcers replaced the “ice” with sugar and conducted a surveillance operation that led to the arrest of the three defendants on Dec. 4, 2015 near Stanford Hotel in San Vicente.

In the U.S. government’s closing arguments, Backe said according to defense counsel Banes, Chen was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

But Backe noted that Chen was picked up by Huang, who is his relative.

The prosecutor said Huang testified for the defense because the U.S. government gave him immunity regarding his testimony.

Backe said they did so because they’re not trying to hide anything and Huang could testify the truth.

Backe then showed a plea agreement that Huang signed at the change of plea hearing.

The prosecutor said the plea agreement stated that Huang’s cousin, Chen, was involved in the drug deal conspiracy.

Backe said Chen was with Huang and Cai for two hours prior to picking up the shipment, but that Chen did not ask a single question during that period.

Backe said it’s a deliberate ignorance.

The prosecutor asked the jurors to look at the evidence, the law enforcement’s surveillance operation, and the witnesses’ testimony.

Backe said Huang was scared, but he got a mission to succeed—to deliver the “ice” and get paid.

Backe said Huang needed a third person, Chen, who is someone who could watch his back.

In Chen’s closing arguments, Banes said Backe and the police are hoping that Chen knew about the drugs even there’s no evidence.

The defense lawyer said Chen cooperated with the investigators but still the U.S. government prosecuted him.

Banes said there’s no direct evidence against Chen, who knew nothing about the drugs.

Banes said there’s no evidence presented that Chen saw when the paint buckets were picked up from the Sunleader warehouse.

Banes said there’s no evidence that Chen saw when Cai transferred the paint bucket that supposed to contain the “ice” to a green Mazda 2 sedan.

Banes pointed out that Cai testified that he is not sure that Chen knew about the drug deal.

Banes said Chen’s purpose to come to Saipan was for business and tourism not for a drug deal.

Banes pointed out that Chen paid for hotel rooms for him and his girlfriend and for their four friends.

The lawyer said Huang testified repeatedly that Chen’s presence was just an accident.

Banes said Huang stated that Chen was not involved and as a result, the plea agreement was cancelled and he got a longer prison sentence.

Banes said the U.S. government made a big deal about the plea agreement.

Banes said the language in the plea agreement is complicated.

The lawyer said the government’s assumption is that since Chen was present, he’s involved in the drug deal.

“Chen was not a member of the conspiracy, therefore he is not guilty,” he said, adding that it’s not a crime to be in a wrong place at a wrong time.

Banes said Chen had no knowledge of the underlying crime.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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