Jury acquits Wang Kho in massage-sex case
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – Jurors acquitted Tibetan refugee Wang Kho of three charges, including sexual assault on a client at his massage studio, at the end of a week-long trial Wednesday.
Kho, 31, said he doesn’t think the 18-year-old woman who accused him is a “bad” person, but her “character is totally wrong.”
“We should reduce bad character,” he said, adding that it makes for a “better,” more peaceful society.
It took the 12-member jury less than two hours to find Kho not guilty of felony sexual assault and misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure and unlawful sexual contact.
Jurors afterward said a lack of evidence from the prosecution influenced their decision regarding events of Dec. 4, 2009.
“It was basically he-said she-said, with no physical proof to show one way or another,” said juror Ashley Nettles of Dillon, who added that court proceedings created “huge reasonable doubt.”
The accuser, her mother and sister testified last week but were not present for the remainder of the trial.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the 18-year-old woman’s statement was “very credible, and we felt that she was sexually assaulted.”
“The judge let in a lot of information we felt was irrelevant,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been let in.”
Hurlbert said the case was an “uphill battle,” and evidence such as whether the woman’s pubic area was shaved and the fact Kho has met the Dalai Lama shouldn’t have been admitted.
“We have tried to educate this judge on victimology at least the past eight years,” he said of his work at the DA office.
Chief District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said legal determinations must be made in every case on what evidence to allow, and the court permitted the prosecution to include expert testimony on victimology.
“Mr. Hurlbert is an advocate for the prosecution. Those types of public comment appear to be an attempt to blame the court for the outcome of the case,” he said. “That is truly regrettable.”
The two have a history when it comes to such cases. Ruckriegle presided over and Hurlbert prosecuted the sexual assault case against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in 2003-04, but the trial was dismissed a day before jury selection.
Hurlbert, who observed part of the Kho trial while attorney Anne Francis prosecuted, said his office respects the will of the jury.
“These cases are tough,” he said. “We will continue to try sex assault cases. People need to know the DA’s office will go to the mat for them if they have been sexually assaulted.”
Kho, whose primary language is a Tibetan dialect, observed the seven-day trial and testified on Tuesday through an interpreter. He remained calm through examinations from both sides.
“When I think about the charge it makes me nervous,” he said of his experience on the stand. “But the truth makes me comfortable.”
Kho was arrested in early December. He pleaded “not guilty” and turned down a plea bargain with the DA’s office.
He’s only been in the United States a few years, and he said after the trial that he didn’t expect the government to “treat (me) that way.”
“We lost so many opportunities,” he said, adding that his business was harmed and he lost his state-issued license to practice massages.
Kho said he doesn’t have enough money to get his license back. And he’s reluctant to return to practice.
“Any person come in like this a second time and my life is over,” he said, alluding to his accuser. “I don’t think I want to massage anymore.”
Ten or more people appeared in the courtroom every day of the trial supporting Kho.
Defense attorney Bruce Brown said it was an “extraordinary turn-out of support for somebody accused of a serious crime.”
He said Kho’s respect in the community – “people who trusted, believed him and cared for him” – helped with the outcome.
Brown said that while cultural differences and a language barrier added challenges to the case, Kho had other ways to communicate.
“He’s a very sensitive, warm person who has a background as a Tibetan monk,” Brown said.
Unlike most trials, the defense’s table was set up on the side of the courtroom next to the jury. Ruckriegle said this was done at the prosecution’s request, so the alleged victim would not have to sit near the suspect when she testified on the other side of the room.
Brown said he’s “gratified” by the trial’s outcome.
“It’s always a difficult circumstance where you have a young complainant in an emotional circumstance,” he said. “Because we all empathize with people in that situation.”
Asked what evidence might have made the most impact with jurors, Brown cited injury attributable to two sources, “one that could imply guilt and one that leads to the opposite conclusion by virtue of reasonable doubt,” he said.
The sex assault assessment of the 18-year-old woman found that her genitalia had an irritated area. This may occurred from the 20 minutes of consensual sexual intercourse she had three to four days earlier. She accused Kho of inserting two oiled fingers in her vagina for less than 10 seconds during the massage.
Tibetan refugees Tse Wang of Sydney, Australia and Palden Hester of Littleton sat in on parts of the trial.
“She should be punished,” Hester said of the 18-year-old accuser, adding “this takes so much time and energy.”
Wang said it’s “sad that could happen to anybody.”
“What if he (Kho) did not have friends and family to support – he could be wrongly punished,” she said.
Ruckriegle retires Aug. 31 after having served on the bench for 26 years. This was his last big criminal trial.
“It was a very difficult trial for everybody involved,” Ruckriegle said, “including the jurors who gave seven days of their time to hear the evidence.”
Friedman said she and Wang Kho intend to continue to operate their business on Main Street in Breckenridge. Their son, Tashi, is about one-and-a-half years old.
“We’re just so glad this is behind us,” Friedman said. We have dreams, and we want to have control over our futures.
“So we can do that now, and we are free to dream.”
SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.
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