Closing arguments presented for Cha trial
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - The fate of Song Ja Cha is now in the hands of a federal jury, who received jury instructions and heard closing arguments in the case. While prosecutors have asked jurors to write the final chapter and hold Cha accountable for her actions, the defense has asked jurors not to assume all of the testimony in the case was true.
Federal prosecutor Jared Fishman described the accounts of "nightmares suffered at the Blue House" detailing the stories of nine victims who were lured to Guam and stripped of their innocence. One victim, who resisted advances by customers for three weeks, was allegedly stripped of her virginity and innocence by a male customer who overpowered her and changed her life for a mere $40.
Another, a female minor, only 16 when she was brought from Chuuk to Guam, forced to give up her virginity to pay off a debt to Cha. These are just a few of the examples of the torment endured by the victims of the Blue House Lounge.
Fishman told jurors, "She promised them a better life. She created a climate of fear…took their passports, made them change their clothes and dressed them like prostitutes and forced them to change their names." He added, "The defendant stripped them of their identity. It was the first step in destroying their innocence."
He explained that the scheme began in 2004 when Cha first went to Chuuk and began recruiting girls to work at the Blue House Lounge. He reminded jurors that Cha wanted young, skinny and sexy girls and paid finders fees to a man living in Chuuk, who was paid thousands of dollars in wire transfers to recruit the girls, which included his own 16-year-old daughter.
"The Blue House was a place where men went to buy sex. The Blue House was a house of prostitution," he said. "She didn't even care she was sending a 16-year-old into prostitution every night."
Fishman told jurors during closing arguments Cha manipulated debt to perpetuate a lie to keep the girls working, holding their passports hostage, threatening to have them put in jail and forcing them to work 14 hours a day to pay off the cost of the airline ticket and passport Cha paid for them. The prosecution said the girls were in fear of being arrested, as police were regular visitors at the blue house and were friendly with Cha.
Fishman referred to the testimony of Police Officer David Q. Manila:
Prosecutor: While you were at the Blue House did you ever go into the VIP room?
Officer Manila: Yes, sir.
Prosecutor: How much did you pay to go into the VIP room?
Officer Manila: I bought the lady two drinks.
Prosecutor: And how much was that?
Officer Manila: About $40.
Prosecutor: And what happened when you went in the VIP room?
Officer Manila: We sang karaoke and we had sex.
Defense attorney Howard Trapp: You have to understand that prostitution is illegal, right?
Manila: Yes, sir.
Trapp: And don't you understand that not only is it illegal for someone to offer sexual favors, sexual conduct for money, but it's also illegal - a crime - for someone to receive sexual favors having paid for them, isn't that true?
Manila: Yes, sir.
Trapp: Were you on duty at the time?
Manila: No, sir.
Trapp: But you did know it was a crime, didn't you?
Manila: Yes, sir.
Fishman told jurors, "Officer Manila and other officers were just tools in the defendant's scheme. The defendant used police as her weapon...by telling you the truth, he has everything to lose, but his testimony corroborates the victims' testimony...the only testimony that was not corroborated was that of the defendant. She has every incentive to lie."
But defense attorney Howard Trapp told jurors not to assume that all of the witness' testimony was true. He was specifically referring to the girls who worked at the blue house describing their testimony as "self-serving words from a group of prostitutes who knew they were in trouble."
He said, "They knew what they were doing was a crime. If they lied about being forced to have sex, they knew they'd go free." "They were afraid of being arrested, afraid of going to jail. They didn't want to go home to Chuuk, to poverty, to the lives that they so much wanted to escape." Trapp said the mere suggestion that his client was selling sex for $40 was ridiculous.
"Isn't that just nickels and dimes?" he asked. "I suggest to you that they (customers) were paying a whole lot more when they were inside the room. If it was happening, they're making money that Mrs. Cha never sees."
His client, who decided to take the stand on Monday, claims she never knew that sex was occurring inside the bar. Additionally he argues that Cha is not physically imposing. "Mrs. Cha is not capable of beating the girls and overpowering them," Trapp said.
The defense counsel added that despite some girls testifying that one girl who got pregnant was forced to drink Pine-Sol and was beaten, she never testified that any of it happened and never said Cha hurt her. "This is about Mrs. Cha's life, what's going to happen, don't just accept what the prosecution says happened. Mrs. Cha's life is in your hands," noted Trapp.
Jurors began deliberating this afternoon and will continue on Wednesday.