By Lauren King, Jackie Snyder, and Tiffany Yeh
“This is a case of opportunity,” began Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor on the afternoon of May 12, 2015, “but rape, nonetheless.” Ms. Zambor’s statement marked both the beginning of the Lang Her trial and its opening arguments at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse.
The alleged victim, referred to throughout counsels’ opening statements as “YX,” became inebriated at a college party on the evening of July 9, 2012. Several of YX’s friends and acquaintances were in attendance, including fellow U.C. Davis Hmong Student Union (HSU) members. YX found that she was unable to function and was thus helped upstairs by Lang Her and a male friend. Lang Her was an acquaintance of YX from the Hmong association. YX was placed on Mr. Her’s absent roommate’s bed to rest.
Later that evening, YX woke up with immense pain and noticed a chest over her face and a man’s genitals inside her person. YX reported that she was unable to “find her voice.” She was unable to move or speak, but soon noticed a male figure cross the room to check his cellphone. When the mobile’s light shone in the darkness, YX recognized the figure as Lang Her.
Mr. Her asked YX if she was okay and she fled to the bathroom to call a friend. Before the phone call could be made, the cellphone’s battery ran out. Additionally, YX was still intoxicated and it was late at night. YX located a pair of “footy pajamas,” and spent the remainder of the evening on a downstairs couch.
In the morning, Mr. Her gave YX a ride to school. Once on campus, YX revealed that she had been raped the previous evening. This announcement was made during class, however, the professor ended the session early and urged YX to attain counsel and a rape advocate.
On July 11, at her sister’s urging, YX called the Davis Police Department and notified them of the incident. The Davis PD and The U.C. Davis Student Judicial Affairs unit conducted interviews and investigations based on YX’s disclosure. At the end of pretext phone calls, interviews, and DNA testing, it was discovered that a sperm cell on the alleged victim’s panty liner was a match for Mr. Her.
The stories of both the defendant and the alleged victim changed at several times during the investigation and Mr. Her was dismissed from school after the results of the DNA tests came to light. Counsel for Mr. Her, Mr. Jesse Santana, gave several hypothetical explanations for his client’s differing statements and stated that Mr. Her will be testifying during the trial. Mr. Santana will also call an expert witness to assure the court that Mr. Her is not a sexual deviant.
The trial of Lang Her continued for its second day on May 13, 2015. Several individuals were seated outside the courtroom waiting patiently for their turn to take the witness stand. Two of the individuals scheduled to testify were asked to leave and return the next day (May 14, 2015) because the trial was already behind schedule.
The witnesses that were called to testify on the morning of May 13, 2015, included the individual who conducted an administration interview on both the defendant and the alleged victim (referred to as YX), a judicial officer employed through UCD and a professor of the alleged victim (YX).
One of the first witnesses to take the stand was an individual who had been contacted to conduct an administrative interview on the defendant and YX. The witness testified that the defendant, when interviewed, claimed that on the night of the alleged incident many people, mostly students, gathered at the defendant’s residence to have a party.
Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed by most of the attendees, including YX. Due to the extreme intoxication of YX, the defendant, as well as a friend of YX, took her upstairs to the defendant’s roommate’s bed to lie down. YX’s friend stayed with her while the defendant went back downstairs to enjoy the party.
When the party came to an end, YX’s friend attempted to wake her, however, when she (the friend) was unsuccessful she made the decision to leave YX at the defendant’s house. A similar incident had taken place prior to the alleged sexual assault and YX was left at the defendant’s residence without incident.
Due to this, YX’s friend felt confident she would be safe. The defendant stated that once everyone was gone he cleaned up his residence and went upstairs to check on YX. He placed her on her side and brought her a trash can because he thought she may vomit. He then went to bed in a separate room.
When he awoke the next morning YX was downstairs on the couch. The defendant then drove the YX home to retrieve some items and then dropped her off at school.
The next witness to testify was a Judicial Officer at UCD. He stated that his job was to look into the student’s allegation(s) of misconduct. The witness testified that an allegation had been made against the defendant and the defendant was asked to sign a no contact order which required him to keep away from the alleged victim.
On August 28, 2012, YX notified the witness that the defendant had violated the order. The witness once again asked the defendant to sign a no contact order. When the defendant violated the no contact order for the second time in November 30, 2012, he was discharged from UCD.
The last witness before the morning session concluded was a professor of YX’s. The professor testified that, while he was based in Los Angeles, he taught theater performance courses over the summer at UCD, acting as a seasonal guest artist.
The professor claimed that his course was more untraditional than most and he considered it to be creative. He stated that the course would usually consist of no more than 13 students and, due to their constant interaction, they would often become close. The professor stated that each time the class met they would all gather in a circle and “check in.”
This time was provided for students, allowing them to discuss events in their life as well as anything else they may decide to share. The professor testified that on July 10, 2012, when the class was doing their check in, a distraught YX claimed she had been raped. The professor then contacted a school counselor who later met with YX.
Day Two – Afternoon
The first witness to testify after the lunch break was Professor Alex Lu, an auto-biographical storyteller and writer. He was teaching ASA 121 (Asian American Performance) during summer sessions in 2012. He described it as a theater performance class that is about storytelling and listening.
The class encourages creativity, is about cultural identity and history of each of the students. YX was a student in his class. In July of 2012, the morning after the alleged rape, specifically fifteen minutes before class, YX talked to Professor Lu.
He described her as crying and crying. In a statement made to an investigator, he had also mentioned that she was shaking, weeping and startled. YX told him that she had been raped and he had advised her to see a counselor. Because it was early in the morning, around 8am, nothing was really open, but Bruce Hu, a counselor, was available, so he suggested that YX see him.
Professor Lu emphasized, upon being questioned, that stories that the students write are not fictional and that the writing prompts specify that it is auto-biographical in nature. No exaggerating of stories is allowed in class and they do not perform skits because his class is not a drama class.
The defense attorney tried to make the class out as a forum for fictional stories and implied that YX could have made up or exaggerated that she was raped. At one point, he asked Mr. Lu if his students ever lie. He replied that no, he believed that what the students wrote was true.
The next witness up to testify was Jonathan Sewell, a forensic analyst at the CA Department of Justice. He works at the forensic lab and is a criminologist, working with DNA and biological screening.
He has a Masters in forensic sciences, has worked two years at a forensics company doing DNA analysis, and has been working with the D.O.J. since 2009. He was declared an expert on DNA and forensic bodily fluids by the prosecuting and defense attorneys.
In 2012, he did some tests on YX’s panties, pantyliner, and PJs. Part of the process was shining the clothing items under blacklight, to see if there are areas with bodily fluids, such as semen, or chemicals on the clothing. On the rear interior of the panties, there was a faint yellowish glow under the light.
The interior crotch area of the panty had a light fluorescent color also, on the top area and the center of crotch but was described as nothing too strong. There were two areas on the absorbent side of the pantyliner that were fluorescent under the light, the above center area and another smaller, irregular shaped area also.
Another screening test done was chemical testing for acid phosphatase (AP), a component that is in large amounts in semen, specifically the seminal fluid around sperm cells, which came up negative for the interior and exterior of the panty.
An AP test was done for the pantyliner and showed a change in color, indicating a positive reaction, for the center of the pantyliner. Another test was done on the pantyliner, called P30 test. P30 helps in looking for sperm cells, specifically another component in semen.
P30 is a molecule found in high amounts of semen, more precisely, in the seminal fluid. 4 areas of the pantyliner were tested for P30 and two of those areas tested positive for P30. There were sperm cells (two sperm cells and two possible cells) found in one of those two areas. The P30 test was done on the panty too, but no P30 and no sperm cells were on the panty.
The areas where P30 was found were consistent with vaginal drainage areas. Time between ejaculation and when the sample on the clothing is collected matters. Semen breaks down fairly soon, and can survive for up to 3 days; 24-48 hours is when semen can still be detected. Vaginal drainage is when the vagina is cleaned out.
Semen in a female’s body can break down sooner because it is a foreign object. A “onesie” pajama with dinosaur patterns on it was tested too. On the left breast area of the external side of the PJs there was a light area of fluorescence. No acid phosphatase was detected on the PJs though and a P30 test was not done for that item. Acid phosphatase is found in lower levels in female urine and higher levels in male urine, and can be found in saliva and vaginal secretions, in addition to being found in semen. There were no acid phosphatase, P30, and semen cells on the vaginal, cervical and rectal swabs.
The defense attorney asked lots of questions about AP and P30 and the potential for those substances to be found in other bodily fluids, besides in semen. He also asked questions about pre-ejaculation fluid.
There was discussion about the number of sperm cells released during ejaculation and reasons for having reduced sperm cell counts. YX had a tampon on that night and the tampon’s possible ability to absorb fluid from the vaginal cavity was also discussed. The expert thinks, based on his experience in biological screening and the location of the stains from the tests, that vaginal drainage was on the pantyliner.
The next witness to testify was Kerry (first name not clearly heard in court) Wu. His memory seemed fuzzy. There was a period of time, around 2011 or 2012, that Mr. Wu lived in the same apartment with Mr. Her and others in Davis. Mr. Wu dated one of Lang Her’s housemates before he had moved to that apartment, so he was at the two-story apartment pretty often.
He stated that a Diane or Diana Lee (name unclear) gave him a pair of green onesie PJs with dinosaur patterns on them. He stated that he only wore them once and then never wore them. He does not know where his PJs are today. Mr. Wu recalled that he saw a woman and a man, that looked like Lang Her possibly, walk from the upstairs part of their apartment down the stairs. He saw one of the two people wearing PJs with dinosaur patterns on them. He is not sure if he remembers the two people hanging out downstairs before he saw them walk downstairs. Mr. Wu was downstairs when that all happened.
Officer Mark Saunders also testified. He had been with the Davis Police Dept. on July 11 of 2012. He responded to dispatch about a rape that occurred a few days earlier from that date. He met YX and talked to her on the street, outside her apartment. Her sister was there, along with another field training officer. YX handed Officer Saunders a pair of panties that had the pantyliner still attached, denim shorts, white bra, grey t-shirt, and green dinosaur PJs all in one bag. This one bag was all booked into evidence. Officer Saunders arranged for YX to take a sexual assault examination.
Mario Alfaro, a police service specialist with the Davis Police Dept. at the time, was the manager of the property room. He put the items away. In July of 2012, there was a bag of clothing booked into evidence that included panties, pantyliner attached, denim shorts, bra, t-shirt, and PJs. Mr. Alfaro asked Officer Alex Torres to repackage the clothing items into individual separate bags on July 12, 2012. A sexual assault kit was arranged to be picked up from a clinic in Sacramento and then put into the refrigerator. Mr. Alfaro saw Officer Torres repackaging the clothing items, as he had requested. The items were all in one paper bag for less than 24 hours.
Officer Alex Torres testified saying he repackaged evidence into individual separate bags. They were all sealed. He had not been told to put each clothing item on a piece of white paper before putting the item in the other bag. The defense attorney was pointing out the possibility of cross-contamination because everything had been in one bag for a period of time.
The last witness of the day was Lauren Hartfield, who was a Community Services Officer with the Davis Police Dept. She had interned at the West Sacramento and Davis police departments. She was assigned to case 12-2625, where evidence had been booked in. One of her responsibilities was to clear the evidence locker. The officer was on one side of the locker and she was on the other, and she put the evidence in a secured warehouse to be stored.
The unusual thing she noticed was that clothing had be packaged together. Her partner at that time at the department was Mario Alfaro. She passed on the information to him and then immediately handed him the bag. Ms. Hartfield was asked to help Lead Detective Ariel with this case. On November 15, 2012, she swabbed the inside cheek of Lang Her, with respect to a search warrant. She obtained two saliva swabs, which were then put into an evidence box and bag. This, along with sealed blood, urine samples, and a pair of panties was then delivered to the Department of Justice in the end.
Deputy District Attorney Zambor estimates that she will be done with witnesses around Thursday afternoon. The trial continues at 9am in Department 1 on May 14, 2015.