Jury acquits man of sexual assault and kidnapping

Jurors found Binh Le not guilty of kidnapping and multiple sexual assault charges Tuesday in 2nd Circuit Court. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

WAILUKU — Jurors needed less than an hour to find a Maui man not guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault charges Tuesday in 2nd Circuit Court.

Binh Le, 44, walked out of the courtroom a free man. He had been held in jail while awaiting the completion of his trial on charges of attempted first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping, three counts of third-degree sexual assault and fourth-degree sexual assault.

“We are happy and grateful that the jurors took their jobs seriously and saw this case for what it was,” Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal said. “Mr. Le is grateful and happy to be out of jail and can begin his life again.”

The incident occurred on June 6, 2016, when a 19-year-old woman told police that Le kidnapped and sexually molested her. She testified on the first day of the four-day trial and told jurors she did not know Le.

She said she was walking down Ohukai Road in Kihei when a silver Jeep stopped in front of her and swung open the passenger door. She testified that Le pulled her into the car and held her against her will.

Deputy Public Defender Ben Lowenthal addresses jurors during his closing argument Tuesday in 2nd Circuit Court. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Shortly after, Le turned into the former Tesoro gas station, now a Hele gas station, and got out of the car to change his shirt, the woman testified. She said he kept her in his line of sight and she was afraid to leave the car.

Le then drove her to a gated home in Kula where she contacted a friend and boyfriend for help, she said. Le later forced himself on top of her in a bedroom and tried to have sex with her before police arrived at the home, she testified.

In closing arguments, Lowenthal told jurors there was insufficient evidence to convict Le of any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the woman was an “unreliable witness” and “flatly contradicted by video surveillance.”

“What she has given you is a far-fetched and preposterous story,” he said. “She is completely discredited by other witnesses; by police officers.”

Lowenthal refuted the victim’s reason for not escaping at the gas station and pointed out that police were nearby for an unrelated traffic accident. He also played a short clip of video surveillance from the gas station that shows Le turn his back on the Jeep.

Video surveillance from the former Tesoro gas station, now a Hele gas station, shows Binh Le walking away from a Jeep he allegedly used to kidnap a 19-year-old woman.

“No kidnapper leaves a person alone for 26 seconds,” Lowenthal said before using a timer to demonstrate the duration for jurors. The woman “did not get out of that Jeep and run away because she wasn’t being kidnapped.”

Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani Gasmen told jurors in her closing statements that police vehicles were very far away from the gas station and officers could not be seen in the video surveillance. She added that the victim was scared and her attention was divided.

“Is this a he-said, she-said case? No,” Gasmen said to the jury. “You have other corroborating evidence.”

Gasmen said the woman pleaded to be taken to Safeway or dropped off on the side of the road, but Le continued to drive to the rural Kula home. She said the woman did not believe she could escape, so she enabled the emergency contact feature on her phone.

“She was doing everything right with the restraints that she had,” Gasmen said.

Gasmen repeated the woman’s testimony that Le forced her into a small bedroom and tried to have sex with her. She said Le exposed the victim’s breasts and left a mark on one of them and attempted to touch and kiss her private parts.

Le also exposed himself and tried to get the victim to perform a sexual act, Gasmen said.

“He stated to her, ‘You are my angel, and I am your demon.’ He knew exactly what he was doing,” Gasmen said.

Lowenthal challenged the victim’s testimony regarding the sexual assault charges and pointed out that no first responders documented the incident. He said no pictures were taken of the mark on the victim’s breast or of facial injuries.

The woman testified that she told police about the mark, but police officers told jurors that they were never made aware of it, Lowenthal said. Police did not document anything because no sexual assault occurred, he maintained.

“There’s no physical evidence of a struggle,” Lowenthal told the jury. “We cannot rely on what she says. Not to the point of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Gasmen’s co-counsel, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeffery Temas, said: “The state thanks the jury for their time and attention; and, although the outcome was not as had been hoped for, the state, nevertheless, believed the allegations, brought by the complainant, were both compelling and important enough to bring forward so as to allow the community opportunity to consider the evidence and bring closure for the parties involved.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.