Taitingfong found guilty


File photo shows Jodan Santos Taitingfong, right, walking with another man on Tuesday toward the courtroom of Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio. (Ferdie de la Torre)

It took a Superior Court jury less than three hours yesterday to unanimously find 24-year-old Jodan Santos Taitingfong guilty of beating up a woman during a robbery at her Micro Beach Hotel apartment in Garapan on July 7, 2016.

Taitingfong, who was found guilty of robbery and aggravated assault and battery, will be sentenced on Dec. 5, 2017.

He faces a possible 20 years in prison for the robbery charge and 10 years for the aggravated assault and battery charge.

Taitingfong appeared calm as he listened to a court staff read the guilty verdict at 4:42pm.

The victim, a 42-year-old Chinese national, sat silently as an interpreter told her about the proceedings.

Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio presided over the trial.

After the hearing, Taitingfong’s parents and his sister hugged him. His mother and sister burst into tears. Taitingfong himself appeared calm. Some of his family members, relatives, and friends were also present.

The benches behind the prosecution’s table were filled mostly with police officers and staff of the Office of the Attorney General.

In an interview after the hearing, assistant attorney general Teri Tenorio, who prosecuted the case, said the victim suffered a tremendous amount of injuries yet stepped forward to seek justice, which demonstrates a lot of courage.

She said the jury sent a message that everybody is deserving of equal protection. She also thanked the police officers. “They have collaborated with our office and devoted tremendous amount of time, personal time, seeking justice in this case.”

Defense lawyer Rosemond Santos thanked the jury for doing their civic duty.

“We respect the verdict,” she said.

Santos said they are looking at options for appeal.

The trial started on Monday. The prosecution called 15 witnesses. The defense did not call any witness.

In the government’s closing argument yesterday, Tenorio said the pieces of the puzzle point to Taitingfong committing the crime. She urged the jurors to keep the island safe and convict a violent criminal.

In her closing argument, Santos said there are many questions unanswered by the government’s witnesses. “The police could have and should have done more. But they have not.”

Santos pointed out that the police only believed the alleged victim, whose statements and testimony did not match the evidence.

Tenorio said the testimony of the witnesses and the pieces of evidence show only one conclusion: That Taitingfong brutally hit the victim, took her purse, and fled.

She stressed that the evidence does not require a video showing the defendant beating the victim. She said no law requires that.

There is indeed inconsistency in the victim’s statements but Tenorio blamed Taitingfong for that. She said the victim not only lost a tooth and damaged two teeth, she also lost her appetite, she often has headache but, most importantly, she lost her memory.

She said that, according to the doctor, the victim had minor brain injury and could have suffered a concussion that could not be seen from an X-ray or CT scan.

“That is what we have here,” Tenorio said.

She pointed out that, on the day when the incident happened, the victim told a police detective that she felt dizzy, had a headache, and was having a hard time understanding questions.

Tenorio said the doctor testified that he gave the victim a very powerful medicine that day that could have caused her dizziness.

That is why the victim could not answer some of the detective’s questions, she said.

The prosecutor said Taitingfong immediately ran away from the scene and even nearly collided with one of the employees of Micro Beach Hotel.

If he is not guilty, why was he running away, Tenorio said, even jumping to the adjacent building, instead of using the front entrance of the hotel.

Tenorio said the video showed that it was only Taitingfong who jumped from the balcony to the other building, then ran toward the alley.

She pointed out that the defense came up with a lot of things that do not even matter, such as raising the issue whether the defendant’s hat was tested for DNA, among other things, and that they don’t even know who owns the hat.

“Really?” the prosecutor said, citing that it is clear in the video that Taitingfong was wearing that hat and that the defendant even admitted to police it was his hat.

Tenorio said another video showed that Taitingfong stopped running and at that time he was no longer wearing the hat.

The prosecutor said Taitingfong threw the hat and his shirt, and then the victim’s bag while he was on his way to his house in As Lito.

She said police later found the shirt, hat, and the bag.

Tenorio said Taitingfong has a guilty mind as he even cut his long hair and, in fact, shaved his head completely.

She said the defendant did this to prevent the victim from identifying him in the courtroom.

In fact, the prosecutor noted, when the victim took the witness stand, Taitingfong sat beside former lawyer Joseph Arriola instead of sitting beside Santos. Tenorio said this sitting arrangement is not normal.

Arriola has been assisting Santos in the trial.

The defendant’s alibi is that he asked for a massage and when the victim asked him for money, he left because he had none, and that he ran because he was scared that the victim would make a scene.

“Seriously? You want a massage and you don’t have money?” Tenorio asked. She urged the jurors to consider the reasonableness of Taitingfong’s answers.

The prosecutor said Taitingfong knew he had been caught on video so he told police that he was carrying his betel nut bag in his short pants’ pocket.

Tenorio said nowhere in the video does it show something bulging in Taitingfong’s pocket.

“Lying and stealing are next door neighbors,” Tenorio said.

In her closing arguments, Santos cited inconsistencies in the statements and testimony of the victim.

Santos said the alleged victim stated that after she regained consciousness, she crawled downstairs, met her friend, and fainted again. Santos said the video showed she did not crawl but was escorted by two friends.

The defense lawyer said the alleged victim also could not identify Taitingfong in the courtroom.

She said the alleged victim had different versions about the contents of her bag. First, that the bag had $2,500 and a cellphone, then she later stated that the purse was worth $500 and had $56 and other items.

Santos said police detective Jeffrey Norita, who is in charge of this case, admitted that he did not interview the other occupants in the hotel and did not consider other potential suspects.

Assistant attorney general Jonathan Glass Jr. assisted Tenorio in the trial.

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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