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Wrongly accused Chinese fights for daughter

This article is c 2001- Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN)
Date: July 23, 2001 Section: News Page: A1
Source: Shirley Downing downing@gomemphis.com

Shaoqiang `Jack' He seeks the return of two things most dear to his heart: his daughter and his reputation. "I pray and I persevere," said He (pronounced HEE), a 36-year-old former University of Memphis graduate assistant who denies trying to sexually assault a U of M student in a classroom in 1998. Though still unresolved, the charge cost him his degree, his student job, and his 2-year-old daughter. "I want trial to fight for the truth," He said one night during a break from work at a suburban Oriental restaurant. "I have nothing but the truth and time. Justice will finally come."

For almost three years, He and his wife, Qin `Casey' Luo, 33, have bounced between Criminal, Juvenile and Chancery courts seeking resolution to a sexual battery charge and an end to what He and his wife call a "deception" that cost them their daughter. Twenty-nine months ago, the couple voluntarily gave baby Anna Mae to Jerry and Louise Baker of Bartlett when He and his wife had severe financial and legal problems. They want their daughter back, but Juvenile Court left her with the Bakers pending the outcome of He's criminal case.

The criminal case has stalled after almost three years and three prosecutors. He lost confidence in his first attorney, A C Wharton Jr., when he learned Wharton is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents and the university's Board of Visitors. He picked Wharton's law firm out of the phone book and was not aware of the lawyer's ties to the university for months. He says the local criminal justice system has him in a bind. Each time his case comes up on the docket for a report date, he thinks he will get to tell his story to the judge. Each time, the case is set for the next week or the next month.

Asst. Dist. Atty. Gen. Stephanie Johnson, the current prosecutor, said the state has a victim who wants to prosecute. The DA's office has been waiting for records from U of M, and for He's new attorney to acquaint himself with the case. Defense attorney Leslie Ballin, who represents the alleged victim, deferred to Johnson. Dr. Kathryn Story, assistant dean of judicial affairs at U of M, said she saw bruises, and believes He's suspension from school was justified. The Bakers declined comment and referred calls to their attorney, Kevin Weaver, who also declined comment.

Wharton, like Johnson, said he did not know of the custody battle over Anna Mae, or that the criminal case had hurt He's chances to be reunited with his daughter. In an April letter, Wharton urged He to accept diversion, and said the charge would be expunged if He did not get into more trouble. Wharton also said he would withdraw as He's attorney if He insisted on going to trial. Wharton has since withdrawn from the case. In an interview, Wharton said he does not believe his representation - much of it for free - was in conflict with his role at the university.

He arrived in America six years ago with little knowledge of this country's cultural or legal system. Never in his life had he been accused or charged with a crime, He said. In Memphis, He took an apartment near campus on Mynders, and began working toward a master's degree in Management Information Systems. He was on full scholarship, with a stipend and part-time assistant's job in the computer laboratory at the Ned McWherter Library. In May 1998, He returned to China and married. That fall, Luo arrived in Memphis.

On Oct. 11, He was working in the library when an older Chinese student who could speak little English asked for help with her studies. When he got off work three hours later, the pair walked across campus to Patterson Hall, where He often studied near his apartment. A few people were in the building, but the classroom where they settled was empty. He said they studied, and talked, and the woman told him about her money woes and a husband who had left her. Her tuition was due, and she asked to borrow $500. He said he was concerned about the comments and told her he had to go home.

Six days later, the woman and her husband told police He tried to rape her. The woman had waited for her husband to return from Atlanta before making the report. The woman said He had grabbed her by the breasts, and dragged her around the classroom, disturbing furniture. She showed Story her bruised thighs. Story said she believed the woman. But authorities declined to prosecute for lack of medical evidence or witnesses, according to Wharton.

Several weeks later, He and his wife claimed they were attacked by a man in a Chinese grocery on Summer. Luo, then seven months pregnant, was taken to the hospital for bleeding. The couple filed assault charges against the man, who they learned was the husband of He's accuser. The charges were later dismissed without He's knowledge.

Luo gave birth on Jan. 28, 1999. She and the baby were very ill. He said a fellow church member told him her employer, Mid-South Christian Services, could take Anna Mae in foster care for a few months to allow his wife time to recover. The couple agreed to let the agency have their daughter for 90 days. In February, the baby was placed with the Bakers.

In April, shortly before Anna was to return home, He was arrested on the sexual assault case he thought had been dismissed. After 90 days, Mid-South returned Anna to her parents, who decided they would send their daughter to China to stay with relatives. But He said Jerry Baker convinced them they could provide Anna Mae with better medical care here. The Bakers had to have legal custody so Anna could be put on their insurance policy, He said. Mid-South had withdrawn from the case at that point.

He and his wife - who had never been declared unfit or neglectful of their daughter - signed the documents in Juvenile Court, but said they told the Bakers they wanted their daughter back, and believed she would be returned in a few months. They visited Anna often. But He said the Bakers made excuses when asked to return their daughter. Twice in the past 15 months, the couple petitioned Juvenile Court for Anna's return. But the court let her stay with the Bakers, pending the outcome of the criminal case.

On June 28, 2000, Chris Carrejo, a Court Appointed Special Advocate, reported to Juvenile Court Referee Claudia Haltom that "Anna Mae's parents love her very much. However, Mr. and Mrs. He do not seem to understand the serious nature of this matter." Carrejo said the couple did not understand why they had to go to court to regain their daughter, or why they had to prove anything. Carrejo also said the couple's inability to speak fluent English was a problem.

The couple said they continued to visit their daughter throughout the fall and into January, when they said a dispute arose, police were called, and they were told to stay away. In May, He again petitioned Juvenile Court for the return of Anna Mae. Before the motion could be heard, the Bakers filed to adopt, alleging abandonment.

In recent weeks, Juvenile Court has appointed an attorney for He and his wife, and Criminal Court has brought in a new defense attorney and an interpreter. Stephen Sauer, who now represents He, declined comment. The alleged victim has vacated her apartment near the U of M campus, and her attorney would not say where she could be reached.

Prosecutors have offered He a diversion program in which his record would be cleared if he does not get in trouble in the next two years. But He said he wants his name cleared. "I will not accept it," He said after the offer. "I don't have anything but time. I have lost everything, my child, my degree, my job. I am prepared to see this through, because I know the truth will come out finally. That is what I know in my heart."

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