By Jackie Snyder and Lauren King
On February 26, 2015, Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson called his first witness of the day, Jae-Hyun Jo, a women the defendant, Nan-Hui Jo, met through a Korean Methodist Church she attended on occasion. The witness testified she had visited Ms. Jo only once, for about a hour. The reason for the visit was because the witness was informed that Ms. Jo had recently given birth and had not yet ingested a seaweed soup referred to as Miyuk Guk. Miyuk Guk is traditionally served to Korean women after they have given birth, to help aid in the health of new mothers. The witness volunteered to prepare the soup for Ms. Jo. She testified she brought the soup to Ms. Jo and visited her for about an hour. After their initial meeting, the witness stated she saw Ms. Jo at their church only a handfull of times. After a quick cross-examination from Deputy District Attorney Steven Mount and re-cross from DPD Johansson, the witness was excused.
The next witness DPD Johansson called to testify was the defendant, Ms. Jo. Ms. Jo was able to testify with the help of an interpreter, who was seated next to her at the witness stand. Ms. Jo spoke the English language fairly well. She claimed she had become more proficient in the language due to being detained in an American jail for the past seven months.
Mr. Johansson asked Ms. Jo how she came to meet the biological father of her child, Jesse Charlton. Ms. Jo testified she came to America in 2002 to for school. After attending a few different schools she made her way to Sacramento City College in 2007. She choose this school because of its open enrollment. Once enrolling in photography courses, she met Charlton. She stated Charlton was friendly and tried to have a conversation with her, however, she was not interested in speaking with anyone and, for the most part, ignored him. She claimed she later felt guilty for ignoring him and the next time he approached her she spoke with him. Ms. Jo stated that the two went out for coffee and Charlton confided in her about his life. She said she found him interesting and the two began a friendship which later turned romantic.
A few months later, Ms. Jo discovered she was pregnant by Charlton. She was thrilled because, years before, she had suffered a miscarriage and she did not think she would ever be able to conceive again. When she told Charlton of the pregnancy, he was not too happy and asked her to get an abortion. Ms. Jo and Charlton visited a clinic because Charlton wanted to be sure she was pregnant. When the doctor confirmed, Charlton once again asked she get an abortion, however, Ms. Jo refused.
Due to the disagreement the two went their separate ways. Ms. Jo began working at a sushi restaurant and getting prepared for her child. She stated she would see Charlton at school sometimes but their interactions were awkward. The two began a pattern of getting back together and breaking up.
In June of 2008, Ms. Jo testified she went back to South Korea to visit family. When she returned, she and Charlton attended a dinner with his stepfather and his stepfather’s girlfriend. Ms. Jo stated she became extremely upset at the dinner because she felt they were pressuring her to give the child up for adoption, which she refused to do. Ms. Jo testified that several weeks later she had pain upon going to the bathroom. She tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Charlton. She went to the emergency room alone and her doctor insisted she stay overnight. She stated she made the decision, that night, that she would take care of the child on her own.
In September of 2008, Ms. Jo gave birth to her child. She was still attending school and would see Charlton on campus on occasion. Eventually, around February of 2009, Charlton saw his child for the first time and became attached. The two decided to work on their relationship for the sake of the child. Charlton moved into Ms. Jo’s house during the end of April, 2009. By this time the two had a joint account and were trying to share responsibilities.
Ms. Jo testified that, around June, she noticed her child’s behavior was slightly odd. She recalled an incident where her child placed a necklace in her (the child’s) “special part.” Ms. Jo claimed that mother’s intuition led her to check Charlton’s computer. She searched the computer’s history and found many searches for pornography, which was disturbing to her.
When asked if Charlton ever became violent, Ms. Jo stated yes and referred to a time when she passed the child off to Charlton and the child’s head hit his nose. He became angry and, with the child in hand, reached out and choked her.
After this incident took place, Charlton left for a period of seven to ten days. Ms. Jo stated that once he returned, he became sick with a fever. She said she tried to take care of him, but found it odd when he suddenly claimed he had something to take care of regarding school. Charlton left and when he returned several hours later, Ms. Jo stated he “smelled like sex.” Charlton admitted to having sex and he told her he had a problem, he was addicted to sex. She asked him to leave her home and he packed his belongings and left.
Ms. Jo testified that each time she and Charlton would get back together he would continuously demonstrate a certain pattern of behavior. He would start off calm and kind, and then slowly become out of control. In addition, he abused alcohol on a daily basis.
At the end of October 2009, Ms. Jo was preparing to move back to South Korea. She packed all her belongings and withdrew money from the joint account Charlton and she shared. Ms. Jo testified Charlton knew of her plans to move and she even asked Charlton if he would travel with her to L.A. and assist her with the child. She knew it would be difficult for the child to travel long hours. However Charlton declined.
Ms. Jo traveled to L.A. alone with her child and stayed with Charlton’s biological father for a few days before moving on to her friend’s house. Her friend later took her to the airport and she departed to South Korea.
When asked how Ms. Jo felt about Charlton when she left, she claimed she felt somewhat hopeless. She felt as though he did not care. Her visa was up and she was asked to leave the country immediately, so she felt she had to move on.
Once in South Korea, Ms. Jo testified she attended job training and eventually began a government position, working as an architect/designer. In 2013 her child began kindergarten and, for all accounts, was thriving. Ms. Jo was asked if she ever received emails from Charlton. She stated she did, however, once he threatened her with a “scary” bounty hunter, she was hesitant to read any more of the emails he sent. When she did respond, she claimed she was in New Zealand and that both she and the child were doing well. Ms. Jo claimed she told him this because she was worried for her safety.
Judge Rosenberg then excused court for the afternoon break. Court was set to reconvene at 1:30 p.m.
The trial of Nan-Hui Jo progressed into the afternoon on February 26, 2015, at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. Many of the defendant’s supporters returned this afternoon, donning purple domestic violence awareness ribbons to communicate solidarity. The court gallery had almost reached full capacity, between the defendant’s supporters and the several fellow journalists who attended. During the day’s morning session, Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson had called Ms. Jo to the witness stand. A court interpreter was present to assist her. DPD Johansson continued direct examination of his witness after the lunch break.
DPD Johansson began by questioning Ms. Jo about her daughter’s two passports. Ms. Jo identified both documents presented by counsel and explained that her daughter had both an American and a Korean passport because the child is a dual citizen of the two countries. The child was born into her American citizenship and gained Korean citizenship when Ms. Jo applied on her behalf. This was done so that the child could receive government benefits in either country. Ms. Jo also explained that there were disparities between the two passports in name and birthdate because name order differs in each country and they are not located in the same time zone.
After Ms. Jo returned to South Korea in 2009, she received emails from Ms. Angela Smith of the Child Abduction Unit. Ms. Jo initially replied to the emails, but eventually discontinued the exchange. Ms. Jo felt that she could no longer trust Ms. Smith. Ms. Jo suspected that Ms. Smith was uninterested in her circumstances and that she was not acting as a neutral agent between the two parents.
Ms. Jo also communicated with the United States Embassy and a United States Consulate while she was out of the country. Originally, a United States Consulate contacted Ms. Jo, and she responded that she did not want them to send her mail. In 2011, Ms. Jo contacted the United States Embassy about a visa. Ms. Jo wanted to return to the United States so that her child could be educated here. She explained to the Embassy that she was a Korean citizen and that her child was a dual citizen. Ms. Jo testified that she was told that there was no visa for her situation. At this time, Ms. Jo was unaware that she was wanted for a crime in the United States.
Ms. Jo planned to move back to the United States with an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa in 2013. She wanted to return because her child was six years old and therefore old enough to attend elementary school. Ms. Jo believed that her child should be educated in the United States because the child is not full Korean. Ninety percent of the Korean population is full Korean and children who are not are bullied in school. Ms. Jo also felt that the child was now old enough to tell someone if Mr. Charlton did something to her. Ms. Jo wanted the child to have her father in her life, so long as it was safe. Before this, Ms. Jo did not tell her daughter that she had a father, because she felt that her daughter was too young to understand the situation.
DDA Mount began cross-examination of the witness. Mr. Mount first inquired about Ms. Jo’s history, beginning from her first entry into the United States. Ms. Jo testified that she had lived in the United States for seven years prior to her 2009 move back to South Korea. In 2002, Ms. Jo moved to the United States on a student visa to attend the film school at the University of Southern California (USC). At this time, Ms. Jo was 30 years old. On November 19, 2002, Ms. Jo also applied for a California driver’s license. After Ms. Jo left USC, she attended Los Angeles City College for several years.
In 2005, Ms. Jo returned to South Korea and remained there for one month. During this time, Ms. Jo attained a new passport and a fiancé visa with the intention of marrying a Mr. Bennett. Ms. Jo had until October 31, 2005, to marry an American citizen or she would be forced to return to South Korea. On October 28, 2005, three days before the fiancé visa was going to expire, Ms. Jo wed Mr. Bennett. Ms. Jo lived with her husband on the East Coast for five months before returning to California. Mr. Bennett did not accompany her.
Ms. Jo saw Mr. Bennett one last time, in January of 2008 in San Francisco. Ms. Jo met with her husband because he had stolen a camera that she and Mr. Charlton owned together. She wanted to recover the stolen camera. Ms. Jo never got back together with Mr. Bennett and did not alert immigration that they were separated. Ms. Jo testified that she was unaware that she was supposed to do this. She also never filed for divorce and only this year discovered that they were no longer married, after speaking with her immigration lawyer.
When Ms. Jo returned to California in 2006, she began taking classes at Sacramento City College. Ms. Jo testified that she chose this school because other colleges’ admissions were closed. She met Mr. Charlton in a photography class at the city college. Their relationship began as a friendship and soon developed into a romantic relationship.
In December of 2007, Ms. Jo became pregnant. She and Mr. Charlton were not using contraception because they believed that Ms. Jo could not have children. Both Ms. Jo and Mr. Charlton were quite surprised by the new development. Mr. Charlton’s surprise soon turned to anger. Mr. Charlton did not want to father a child.
Before the pregnancy, Mr. Charlton spent almost every day and night at Ms. Jo’s trailer in a Sacramento trailer park. Ms. Jo was renting the trailer for $350.00 a month, and a car for $120.00 a month. After Mr. Charlton found out about the pregnancy, he stopped hanging out with her as frequently. Sometimes he would come over to eat Ms. Jo’s Korean cooking and then he would leave. He did not want to spend much time with her anymore, but retained his love for Korean cuisine.
In 2007, while Ms. Jo was pregnant, Mr. Charlton attended the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Ms. Jo was working as a waitress at the time trying to make ends meet. She felt that it was unfair for Mr. Charlton to spend money on the trip and to leave her alone in Sacramento while she was pregnant.
On several occasions, Mr. Charlton told Ms. Jo that he wanted to break up and that he did not want a baby. He was not a good boyfriend to her anymore and this hurt her. On March 16, 2008, Mr. Charlton came over to celebrate Ms. Jo’s birthday. Ms. Jo did not invite him to her birthday celebration. Ms. Jo testified that Mr. Charlton only attended the celebration to eat the Korean food that she had made. He did not bring her any presents or flowers.
On another occasion, Ms. Jo was unable to reach Mr. Charlton on his cellular phone and so she tracked him down at a friend’s house. When she arrived at the house, Mr. Charlton was wearing “nice” clothes. This made Ms. Jo think that he was dressed for a date. He told her that he was going to a baseball game with his father, but she did not believe this because she had never seen him watch a baseball game. Ms. Jo testified, “He want to see me, when he want to see me. He didn’t want to see me.”
Later that day, Ms. Jo had a second conversation with Mr. Charlton. Ms. Jo told him that his nice clothes had a smell, which prompted him to change his outfit. Ms. Jo and Mr. Charlton broke up in the same month, but Ms. Jo did not recall if they ended their relationship before or after this conversation.
The pair resumed their relationship sometime after the incidents in March of 2008. In April or May of 2008, Mr. Charlton invited Ms. Jo to a dinner at his friend’s house. He made a spaghetti dinner for Ms. Jo, his friend, and his friend’s girlfriend. During the meal, the friend’s girlfriend brought up the subject of adoption. Ms. Jo thought that this was rude. She testified that she never yelled or swore at Mr. Charlton when this happened. Ms. Jo simply said, “How do you know there is a better parent for my baby than me?” After this statement, she left the dinner.
Mr. Charlton and Ms. Jo also spent Thanksgiving together that year at a friend’s house. Previously, Mr. Charlton testified that Ms. Jo had made a scene at this function. Ms. Jo explained that Mr. Charlton had disappeared for an hour after they had arrived at the friend’s house. She did not know where Mr. Charlton had gone and did not know anyone else that was present. Ms. Jo began to feel awkward and so she sat in her car and waited for Mr. Charlton to return. Mr. Charlton finally returned with two girls and said that he had been at the grocery store. He did not understand why Ms. Jo was angry. Mr. Charlton’s friend explained it to him because he felt sorry for Ms. Jo. Ms. Jo testified that she was often quiet when she became angry.
In June of 2008, Ms. Jo testified that Mr. Charlton bought her a one-way ticket to South Korea. They were broken up at this time and Ms. Jo did not plan to see him again and no longer had any grants for school. She was six months pregnant and no longer had a place to live in California. She fully intended to return to the United States at some point, due to the fact that her child was “mixed.” She left for South Korea with $2,000.00 in her pocket and later purchased her return ticket there.
DDA Mount presented Ms. Jo with a bank statement that revealed that Ms. Jo had purchased the plane ticket to South Korea in 2008 with her own debit card. The statement also showed that there were a series of deposits made to the account. Ms. Jo explained that these deposits were from Mr. Charlton because he had owed her money. She used this money to buy the plane ticket. This suggested that Mr. Charlton did not purposely buy her the ticket, he was just paying back a debt.
On July 8, 2008, Ms. Jo returned to the United States. According to the United States’ stamp on Ms. Jo’s passport, Ms. Jo only had one year to remain in the country. It is not clear whether Ms. Jo understood this.
Ms. Jo soon moved in with her assistant photography professor on 23rd Avenue in Sacramento. Ms. Jo arrived in the United States, this time, with $6,000.00. She bought a $2,500.00 laptop computer and somehow gained access to a vehicle before the baby was born. On August 4, 2008, Ms. Jo applied for a driver’s license and it was issued in October of the same year.
Ms. Jo soon ran out of money and applied for Human Assistance (Welfare) on August 26, 2008. She also applied for child support because the previous organization asked Ms. Jo the identity of her baby’s father. She also wanted Mr. Charlton to learn how to be more responsible. She filled out detailed paperwork and signed a document that informed her that she must tell Human Assistance and Child Support Services if she had any change in status. However, she did not report any change to Child Support Services or Human Assistance when she moved in with Mr. Charlton or when she gained access to his GI and education benefits through a joint bank account. She also did not report any changes after she moved to South Korea on November 8, 2009.
Ms. Jo told the court that she did not report these changes to Human Assistance or Child Support Services because she and Mr. Charlton frequently broke up and so she did not know when he would leave her again. If he left her again, she would have to start the application process over again.
On February 15, 2010, Ms. Jo signed a document stating that there were no changes in her status and sent it to Human Assistance and Child Support Services. She thought that this was probably wrong, but she had to take care of her child. “I did what I had to do,” she stated.
Ms. Jo testified that she did not know exactly where the deposits to her bank account were coming from because she could not access her online bank statements. She had lost her login pin number for the online portal. She still remembered her ATM pin number, and so she was still able to check her account’s balance and withdraw money. If she saw that there was money in her account, she would withdraw money. Ms. Jo occasionally lent small amounts of money to friends and had them pay her back by making deposits into her bank account.
Ms. Jo did not try to find Mr. Charlton or ask him for financial aid before applying for Human Assistance and child support because she knew that he did not want the child. She also did not invite him to the hospital for the child’s birth. For this reason, she could not put Mr. Charlton’s name on the newborn’s birth certificate. A child’s father must give permission in order for someone to put his name on a birth certificate. However, she did tell Mr. Charlton’s stepmother that she was back in the United States and that she was having her baby.
Ms. Jo received paperwork that informed her when Mr. Charlton had been served with the child support complaint. Mr. Charlton was served before he was introduced to the child. Ms. Jo also tried to apply for additional aid and asked Child Support Services for information on custody orders. She was referred to a Family Court facilitator. Ms. Jo testified that she was unaware that Mr. Charlton was also trying to seek custody of the child.
In an email to a Ms. Carillo, Ms. Jo wrote that Mr. Charlton wanted to go to court to see a judge. This email demonstrates that Ms. Jo did know that Mr. Charlton wanted to go to court before she left for South Korea.
Ms. Jo denied that Mr. Charlton told her about an upcoming court date on October 30, 2009. She also said that she did not remember getting an email from Mr. Charlton on November 5, 2009, saying that she had missed the court date and that another had been scheduled. Coincidentally, Ms. Jo also bought the tickets to South Korea on November 5, 2009. DDA Mount then said, “So, isn’t it true that you knew Jesse had followed through and that there was a court date. You just didn’t want to go.” Ms. Jo responded, “Is that a yes or no question?”
This exchange led Judge Rosenberg to end the day’s court session and the jury was excused. They were told to return at 9:00 a.m. on February 27, 2015. After the jury vacated the courtroom, Judge Rosenberg and counsel discussed jury instructions (on the record). Mr. Johansson’s defense issues were debated among the remaining occupants. Mr. Johansson argued about his defense and his inclusion of the domestic violence testimony. He argued that it was included to explain Ms. Jo’s state of mind when she allegedly abducted the child.
The judge told counsel that the People must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ms. Jo maliciously kept the child away from a custodial parent and asked if either party had any further objections. DPD Johansson said, “I will remain silent.” He would not bring up any further objections, but would also not report that he had no objections. Judge Rosenberg told the public defender that he had never had an attorney say this before and that he was, frankly, offended. DPD Johansson held his ground, and so counsel was excused for the afternoon without a clear resolution.