By Trista di Genova, for The Wild East
February 18th hearing, 10:10am Taipei District Courthouse, Bo Ai Rd.
The courtroom filled up punctually, with about 20 foreigners, observers who are as myself concerned members of the expatriate community in Taiwan in this case. Two of the victim’s family members – the sister and father of the deceased, 50ish — came in about 10:30, went back, and to the left corner.
The prosecution and defense made their closing arguments, in this court case involving a hit-and-run traffic accident on 25th of March 2010, in which Zain Taj Dean has been accused as the prime suspect.
Initially, both lawyers, and the accused defendant Dean, were asked by the presiding, Judge “Do you have any opinion on the testimony of the key witnesses and evidence provided in the trial to date?”
Dean answered a few, and deferred several others to his charismatic lawyer, Billy Chen, who’d previously ran a mock “Peoples Court” trial against then Taipei Mayor and current ROC President Ma Ying-jeou; and who has since established himself as a rising legal star in the Taiwan judicial system.
The prosecution, while seated, slowly dictated a narrative of a man who had acted in shame and had been responsible for the tragedy, citing statements from the KTV staff who claimed they had been forcibly ejected by Dean.
The driver stated he had indeed been ejected from Dean’s automobile, and had returned to the KTV (jiu dian, lit. ‘liquor store”), some 6 minutes later.
He didn’t cross-examine Dean, and he said he stood on previous evidence.
Then Billy Chen took the stage.
He acknowledged the crowd of concerned “American friends” — although present were British, Canadian as well as American — and pointed out among other issues that the defendant had not shown any desire to ‘destroy evidence’, as it had been claimed in the media. Mr. Chen pointed out that police had told media through the prosecution several other salient points, that had later proved to be untrue. Examples included, Dean attempting to flee to Jin Men (Kinmen, or Quemoy), or Dean attempting to conceal /destroy the car; or that Dean had in fact been seen on video footage to have been driving the car before the accident.
Lawyer Chen was “confident” the defense would get a favorable not guilty ruling on three counts of 1) DUI 2) Vehicular manslaughter; 3) Menace to society, on the basis of there being no evidence against Dean apart from the hearsay of the KTV management and staff. Under cross-examination, the KTV statements had been found to be conflicting with each other, conflicting with video records and conflicting with telephone records. The only actual evidence that did exist was video showing Dean leaving the KTV by getting into the passenger seat of his car, with a KTV-supplied driver in the driver’s seat. This was minutes before the accident happened. Additionally, no traffic police camera footage from the corner where the KTV staff indicated they had been “kicked out of the car” could be found to support the KTV statements.
In his closing statement, Dean sent his deep-felt condolences to the family for their loss, regretted any involvement in the tragedy, and said that had he been aware someone had was injured he “would never have left that person by the side of the road.” He expressed sorrow that he had been present at such a tragedy, albeit unconsciously… “But I was not the driver.” He demonstrated ways the video evidence had been fabricated by police; for example, all video stills were of vehicles and persons unrelated to the actual event. Evidence had been sought, he said, but erroneous information had been leaked to the media, while exculpatory video evidence had been withheld by prosecution for 8-9 months.
Dean also pointed out that a Taipei City Councilor candidate Lin Rui-tu had claimed to sensationalistic media that Dean had offered compensation to the victim’s family of US$10,000; however, Mr. Dean stressed he’d “never met him”, further adding: “The car had been insured for 2 million NTD; why would I contact Lin and only offer 320,000 NTD? It doesn’t make any sense.” Dean, well-groomed, dark trimmed hair in a grey pinstripe suit, asked, “Why have the police shown bias in favor of the KTV owners? Do they have a special relationship?”
This was a subtle allusion to a curious bit/factoid of actuality: two days after the car accident, and after Dean being charged, 11 members of the Da-An Precinct plainclothes police officers (also involved in the hit-and-run incident) were slapped with corruption charges regarding collusion with the mafia, by the National Police Administration. A few days later, the head of the Da-An Precinct police station was also removed.
However, the father of the deceased urged the court to give a harsh sentence to Dean and also for Dean to pay him 23 million NTD (approx. US$780,000) in compensation.
The verdict on this case will be handed down by March 15th.
Afterwards, Dean expressed relief at the end of this phase in his life. “I finally got a chance to make my side of the story heard. I had to wait 6 months before the prosecution would even discuss what they claimed was evidence against me, and 8 months before they would let my lawyer see the video footage from the KTV. I’m glad the facts have come out clearly showing that, firstly, the KTV staff have been lying or covering something up. Second, I had not been driving the car at the time of the accident; and thirdly, the police from Da-An police station had been showing extreme bias towards the KTV and ignoring all evidence that would have shown me to be innocent.”