By Makisha Singh and Lauren King
After the opening statements in which the attorneys told of the short, rocky, and passionate love affair between Nan-Hui Jo, a South Korean woman who came to the United States on a student visa, and Iraq War veteran Jesse Charlton, which resulted in the birth of a baby girl, Charlton was called to the witness stand.
Charlton, currently a substitute teacher, provided information about his complicated upbringing. He was raised by a single father, and he later found out the father was not his biological father. They moved around the eastern United States and to Israel before settling in Davis when Charlton was 14. In Davis, Charlton explained, he was placed in remedial courses and acted out because he was not intellectually stimulated. He passed the high school equivalency exam in 10th grade, and at 18 he enlisted in the army.
During his time in Iraq, Charlton survived 3 bombings and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He also endures memory problems, a result of several concussions obtained from his time in the army and from skateboarding incidents. Upon his return, Charlton survived largely off of his disability pay from the military. He also used the money he received from the GI Bill to attend Sacramento City College, where he met Nan-Hui Jo, known to him then as Vitz.
The two started a friendship based on mutual interests of photography and traveling, and began dating two months later. They communicated in English, although Charlton admitted that Jo had some difficulty with the language. When they met, Charlton was 24 and Jo was about 10 years older. Their relationship moved quickly, and he moved in with her in South Sacramento. They did not use birth control and Charlton later learned that Jo believed she couldn’t get pregnant because she’d had a stillborn baby in the past. However, she did get pregnant in 2007.
According to Charlton, the couple argued a lot and their philosophies on life began to clash even before she was pregnant. Charlton was in his early twenties and wanted a carefree life, where he could skateboard and hang out with his friends whenever he wanted, while Jo was older, more responsible, and opposed to Charlton’s lifestyle.
Charlton explained that he was overwhelmed by the prospect of a baby because he knew how difficult it was to raise a child and because he was concerned that their relationship was unhealthy due to their constant fighting. Jo, on the other hand, was excited about the baby and saw it as a miracle because she didn’t think she could conceive. She believed their fighting was a normal expression of passion, but Charlton did not see it that way and the couple broke up before the baby was born.
After the lunch break on February 20, 2015, the trial of Nan-Hui Jo resumed at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. This day started off the evidence phase of the trial. The whole right side of the gallery was filled with Ms. Jo’s supporters. Before the lunch break, the prosecution had called Jesse Charlton, the father of Ms. Jo’s child, to the stand. DDA Steve Mount continued his direct-examination during the trial’s afternoon session.
Mr. Charlton testified that he and Ms. Jo had a rocky relationship. Ms. Jo did not trust him and frequently accused him of infidelity. Mr. Charlton only had one previous significant relationship and it had lasted about a year and a half. Most of that time, Mr. Charlton was serving a tour of duty in Iraq. The two of them decided to end their relationship, but the split was amicable and they kept in touch. Ms. Jo told Mr. Charlton that she did not want him talking to his ex-girlfriend and she was furious when she discovered that communication had not been severed with the previous love interest. Mr. Charlton complied with Ms. Jo’s request.
Ms. Jo’s mistrust of Mr. Charlton was said to be the primary catalyst of their many heated arguments and break-ups. The first time they ended their relationship, Ms. Jo was four months pregnant. Mr. Charlton was aware that Ms. Jo was pregnant, but testified that the pregnancy did not feel like a reality until he was actually able to meet the child. At the time of their first break-up, Mr. Charlton felt that he did not want to continue the relationship; however, he wanted to maintain contact with Ms. Jo. He still cared deeply for her and wanted to know what was going on with her and the child. Conversely, Ms. Jo expressed that she preferred to cease all communication with Mr. Charlton.
On one occasion, when Ms. Jo and Mr. Charlton had resumed their relationship, the pair attended a family dinner at the home of Mr. Charlton’s father. The dinner quickly soured after the girlfriend of Mr. Charlton’s father asked Ms. Jo if she had considered putting the unborn child up for adoption. Ms. Jo responded to the question by “creating a scene.” She yelled angrily, at full volume, and then left mid-meal.
Mr. Charlton testified that he had never suggested that Ms. Jo abort or give up her child to adoption. However, because the relationship was precarious, Mr. Charlton did want to know what she planned to do about the pregnancy. He had many questions and they were not well received. Ms. Jo was incensed by the questions because they suggested that a choice existed. She shouted at Mr. Charlton and accused him of being a bad person. This hurt him deeply because he loved her and cared about her opinion of him. Eventually they broke up again and lost contact.
In November of 2008, when the child was three months old, Ms. Jo approached Mr. Charlton at Sacramento City College where he was still enrolled. She introduced Mr. Charlton to his child for the first time. Mr. Charlton verified that the photograph and birth certificate presented by DDA Mount represented his daughter. Mr. Charlton was also presented with a packet from Child Support Services that requested child support payments to Ms. Jo. Mr. Charlton did not recall if he received this packet before or after he was introduced to his daughter.
On November 7, 2008, Mr. Charlton was served with a court complaint that notified him that he was being sued for child support. In his answer to the complaint, Mr. Charlton denied parentage of the child and included the fact that Ms. Jo was married to someone else when she was pregnant. Prior to November of 2008, Ms. Jo had not requested Mr. Charlton’s help or presence. He was also not included at the child’s birth.
Mr. Charlton readily completed a paternity test and it confirmed that he was the father of Ms. Jo’s child. On February 24, 2009, Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo went to family court. The two carpooled to the courthouse and the judge decreed that Mr. Charlton was the father of the child so that he could begin paying child support.
Immediately after Mr. Charlton was introduced to his daughter, he began visiting her regularly. Soon, he began watching the child while Ms. Jo was in class at Sacramento City College and, likewise, she would watch the child while he was at school. Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo decided that they wanted to try to work things out and become a family. At this time, Ms. Jo was living in a house near the college, with an associate professor.
Before long, the relationship resumed and Mr. Charlton moved in with Ms. Jo. The professor moved out when Mr. Charlton moved in. It was now 2009 and the three of them resembled a family. Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo shared responsibility of the family’s finances and went on trips together. They even opened a joint bank account at a Golden One Credit Union in Sacramento on April 27, 2009. Mr. Charlton received his income through the GI Bill and veteran’s disability benefits, and Ms. Jo was a waitress. Ms. Jo also relied on student loans because her status as a foreign national significantly increased the college’s fees.
This resurgence of the relationship began optimistically, but about a month into the relationship, the arguments resumed. This time, the situation was far worse because their child was involved. They argued frequently about alleged infidelity and pornography. Ms. Jo believed that pornography victimized young women around the world and that it was pure evil. She accused Mr. Charlton of exposing their child to pornography. She also claimed that he was abusing women and children by watching something that victimized them.
Mr. Charlton looked at pornography on Ms. Jo’s computer when she was away from the house. She did not give him permission to use her computer and their daughter was in his care. Ms. Jo discovered what Mr. Charlton was doing because he did not attempt to hide the evidence. He did not erase the browser history and sometimes he even left a webpage up on the computer. Mr. Charlton admitted it, when confronted, but said that he would never show pornography to his child.
In July of 2009, Mr. Charlton turned 26 years old and Ms. Jo took a knee and proposed. She also presented him with a ring. Mr. Charlton testified that he thought that the proposal was completely absurd. Ms. Jo was still married to a man on the East Coast and she and Mr. Charlton’s relationship was far from stable. Ms. Jo told him that she wanted help getting a divorce from her current husband, and that her husband was angry with her and would never be of any help.
Mr. Charlton turned down her proposal. Ms. Jo was quick to anger and accused him of not loving her. She told him that she would not be able to stay in the United States and that their half-Korean child would be ridiculed in school. She said that there were problems with racism in Korea and that they did not accept people who were not full Korean. Ms. Jo threatened that she would go back to South Korea with their daughter. Mr. Charlton did not see any validity in her statements because he assumed that because the child was an American citizen, as well as an infant, the government would not deport Ms. Jo.
Ms. Jo became increasingly accusatory about Mr. Charlton’s alleged infidelity. At times, Ms. Jo would sniff his groin to see if it smelled like another woman. He told the court that he never did cheat on her.
In September of 2009, the day before their daughter’s first birthday, Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo got into an argument while they were parked in Ms. Jo’s minivan. She again accused him of being abusive to women and children because he watched pornography. Mr. Charlton became very angry and punched the van’s steering wheel. The impact caused his hand to break.
Mr. Charlton left the car and proceeded, on foot, to the veteran’s hospital. Mr. Charlton testified that he left due to his PTSD and because he felt that he had crossed a line by demonstrating violence in front of his child. Mr. Charlton felt out of control of his life. His daughter was the most important thing in his life and he did not want to lose her.
Mr. Charlton stopped at several bars on his way to the veteran’s hospital. After consuming several beers, he flagged down a police officer and told him that he needed a ride to the veteran’s hospital. Instead, the officer took Mr. Charlton to jail. He sat in a cell for twelve hours. Afterward, Mr. Charlton had a great time at his daughter’s party and neither he nor Ms. Jo ever discussed the incident.
On October 18, 2009, Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo had a second argument that became physical. Mr. Charlton became upset to the point that he told Ms. Jo that he was going to leave. He did not want to continue fighting in front of the child. Ms. Jo responded, “No, you’re not leaving. I am.” She then tossed the child at Mr. Charlton from a little more than an arm’s length away. The back of the child’s head made contact with Mr. Charlton’s face. Their daughter proceeded to cry.
Mr. Charlton chased Ms. Jo, grabbed her by the throat, and threw her up against a wall. He briefly choked her and said, “You can’t do that,” and then let go. Both parties called law enforcement. Neither Ms. Jo nor Mr. Charlton were arrested or physically marked by the altercation. However, Mr. Charlton testified that he knew that nothing would ever be the same. He moved out of Ms. Jo’s house and, though he continued to visit his daughter, he never slept over at the house again.
Shortly after the incident, Ms. Jo told Mr. Charlton that she was going home to South Korea. She cited immigration issues and his insufficient love as the cause. Mr. Charlton went to the courthouse and petitioned for visitation to try to keep her from leaving the country. The hearing was scheduled for November 2, 2009.
On October 30, 2009, Mr. Charlton called law enforcement yet again. He was unable to find his passport or his money at Ms. Jo’s house. He also discovered that Ms. Jo had cleared out their joint bank account and that she was moving out of her house. On this day, Mr. Charlton informed Ms. Jo of the upcoming court date.
On November 2, 2009, Mr. Charlton showed up to court. Ms. Jo did not. Mr. Charlton was able to get an order that was intended to prevent Ms. Jo from leaving the state of California and was told to return to court in December. Ms. Jo did not show up for the second court date and Mr. Charlton did not know where she was.
Each day for six months Mr. Charlton called and emailed Ms. Jo. He told her that he wanted to see his child and be a father to her. Six months after the incident on October 30, Ms. Jo finally responded, telling Mr. Charlton that she was in New Zealand and that she needed money.
A friend informed Mr. Charlton that Ms. Jo had a storage unit in Sacramento where she was storing belongings that she could not bring with her to South Korea. After hearing of this, Mr. Charlton called law enforcement as well as the Yolo County Child Abduction unit where Ms. Angela Smith opened a case file for him.
Ms. Jo had two different passports that each had a different name and birthdate. She also had multiple email accounts. Mr. Charlton was sure to send emails to the account that she checked most frequently.
DDA Mount presented several emails to the court. In these emails, Ms. Jo told Mr. Charlton that she had moved to New Zealand and needed money. She informed him that he owed her money because she had used her student loans to pay for rent while they were living together.
Mr. Charlton saved up $10,000 and flew to South Korea. Before and after he arrived, Mr. Charlton emailed Ms. Jo and told her that he was coming and would give her money if she would allow him to reestablish contact with his daughter. He had also continued paying child support to Ms. Jo since the February 2009 court date that had confirmed his paternity. Child Support Services had offered to cut Ms. Jo off from the child support money, but Mr. Charlton wanted it to continue going toward his daughter’s upbringing. Ms. Jo did not respond to Mr. Charlton’s emails and he left South Korea without seeing her or his daughter.
DDA Mount presented the passports of Mr. Charlton as well as his daughter. The child’s passport had a stamp that showed that the child had been admitted into South Korea on November 9, 2009. Mr. Charlton’s passport contained stamps from his June 29, 2011 trip to South Korea.
From December 1 to December 30, 2009, there were a series of withdrawals from the joint bank account that Mr. Charlton said he was not responsible for. After this, he closed the joint bank account. On another occasion, Ms. Smith at the Yolo County Child Abduction unit discovered that someone had used Ms. Jo’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to buy food stamps in Folsom, California. Ms. Smith and Mr. Charlton drove to Folsom and viewed a surveillance video to see who had used the card. The video revealed that the patron in question was a friend of Ms. Jo’s.
The trial ended for the day and was scheduled to resume on February 23, 2015 at 9:00a.m. DDA Mount will continue his direct examination of Mr. Charlton at that time.