Self-confessed addict gets 3 years in prison for robbing teen student

A self-confessed drug addict was slapped with a three-year prison term for robbing a student who had just gotten out of school at Mt. Carmel in Chalan Kanoa and was injured after he was dragged by the suspect’s car by 50 feet.

The victim’s injuries forced him to quit playing soccer and be absent from school for a time. He had trouble sleeping and subsequently moved back to South Korea, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

In a written order on Wednesday, Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo sentenced Benjamin Bok Lee to seven years in prison, all suspended except for three years, for robbery and assault and battery.

After completing his three-year prison term, the 27-year-old Lee will be placed on supervised probation for four years. He may apply for parole.

Although he considered Lee’s statement of apology and has shown remorse, Govendo said the expression of remorse was centered on Lee’s drug addiction problem rather than toward the victim.

Govendo said he must consider the gravity of the crime and the seriousness of the harm done to the victim.

In this case, the judge noted an aspect of violence in that the victim was dragged by Lee, who was driving a moving car.

As a result, Govendo said, the victim sustained several injuries and suffered the emotional turmoil.

“The court finds this factor in favor of imposing a sentence that warrants some jail time,” he said.

Lee was ordered to pay $1,204 in restitution to the victim, a $1,000 fine, $125 in court costs, and $560 in probation fee. He was required to complete counseling at the Community Guidance Center during his probation.

Last March 14, Lee pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to robbery and assault and battery.

At the sentencing hearing last Tuesday, assistant attorney general Betsy Weintraub, counsel for the government, recommended a sentence of four years imprisonment, followed by probation of three years.

Weintraub said Lee dragged a young man 50 feet along the asphalt of Texas Road as he wrestled away a cell phone.

He took advantage of the victim’s trust and their common language, and left him bloody and bruised on the ground, the prosecutor said in her sentencing memorandum.

Weintraub said the incident happened on Feb. 10, 2016, shortly after the victim was getting out of school at Mount Carmel and was walking on Texas Road.

Weintraub said as the victim busied himself with a new phone he had just bought, he heard someone beckoning him in Korean, his native language.

A vehicle driven by Lee had stopped across the street. When the victim approached, Lee asked if he could use the victim’s phone.

When the victim refused, Lee pulled his hand, along with the phone, into the vehicle and began to speed off.

Weintraub said the student had to run and hold himself up and against the car to keep from being run over.

After dragging him about 50 feet away, the victim’s hand was released and he fell to the ground, scraping a 4-inch gash across his hip, as well as lesser scrapes on his elbows and legs.

Lee drove away with the victim’s phone. Lee was eventually arrested, but the phone was never recovered, according to the prosecutor.

Assistant public defender Nancy A. Dominski, counsel for Lee, recommended a sentence of time served.

Dominski said Lee has admitted to the charges and apologized to the court.

Dominski said Lee states that he has been working to address his drug problem, the root of his problems.

Last Aug. 21, police arrested Lee after a surveillance camera led to his identification in connection with the burglary at the home of House of Representatives counsel Joseph Taijeron in Garapan. The case is pending in court.

Lee was also recently arrested for domestic violence after he allegedly assaulted his wife and her male friend at the entrance of Coral Ocean Point in Koblerville. The wife told police that her husband has been using methamphetamine or “ice” again.

Last Aug. 14, Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho found no probable cause to believe that the crimes of assault and battery and two counts of disturbing the peace were committed in connection with the domestic violence. Camacho dismissed the case without prejudice, which means the prosecution may re-file the case in the future.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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