Closing arguments in the ghost scam trial concluded on Wednesday -- around 10:30 a.m., the jury exited the courtroom and began deliberations.
And here's the one question those 12 locals will try to answer: Did the four defendants commit the crime out of necessity?
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"Legal necessity" requires six points:
1. The defendants acted in an emergency to prevent significant bodily harm.
2. There was no adequate legal alternative.
3. The defendants did not create a greater danger than the one they avoided.
4. The defendants actually believe the act was necessary to prevent a threat.
5. A reasonable person also would have believed that the act was necessary to prevent the threat.
6. The defendants did not significantly contribute to the emergency.
The defense team argued that this case hits those check marks: The emergency was that an organized crime ring in China had threatened to kill the defendants' loved ones if they did not commit the scam; because of their negative experiences with the police departments in China, the defendants were hesitant to contact SFPD, and, either way, the crime bosses would have killed the loved ones if the defendants did contact authorities.
The defendants, public defender Roberto Evangelista asserted, acted the way many of us reasonable folks would have under the circumstances -- do whatever it takes to protect our children. The criminal organization knew where their families lived. Tricked into flying thousands of miles away from their homes, the defendants had no other recourse than to follow orders.
The prosecution's main counterpoint was that the defendants' version of events was full of lies: "Don't follow the new ghost," Assistant District Attorney Michael Sullivan told the jury yesterday. "They were caught red-handed and now they're telling you a story."
The defendants, he argued, were not victims of a criminal organization, but rather co-conspirators. They were well-traveled, more than worldly enough to understand that they should have reported their alleged debt bondage situation to American authorities.
Sullivan stressed to the jury that, in an "out-of-necessity" defense, the burden of proof shifts away from the prosecution. And the defense, he argued, did not offer enough evidence to support the defendants' "self-serving" testimony that they were coerced into the crime.
Jury deliberations will continue today.