China Sect Leader Faces Calif. Trial for Assault

Reuters/December 15, 2003
By Howard Breuer

Pasadena -- An exiled Chinese sect leader who aspires to someday return to his country and rule it will be tried on charges that he assaulted a housekeeper in his Pasadena, California home, a judge ruled on Monday.

After a four-day preliminary hearing, Hong Bao Zhang, 49, was ordered Monday afternoon to stand trial on charges that he beat his housekeeper, pulled her by her hair into a bedroom and slammed her head into a bedpost after becoming angry with her for mismanaging a household construction project.

Pasadena Superior Court Judge Judson W. Morris Jr. found sufficient evidence to order a trial for Zhang on felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, dissuading a witness and making criminal threats.

Morris rejected a kidnapping charge, saying prosecutors' case may have been stronger if the bedroom doors had been locked or if victim Nan Fang He, 49, did not know where she was. He set a Dec. 30 arraignment for Zhang.

After the ruling, Zhang smiled and walked from the courtroom. He told Reuters that he viewed the case as a positive development. "I'm learning the American law through this experience, which will later help me when I govern the country of China," Zhang said.

He also told reporters that the victim's statements were inconsistent, and suggested that the housekeeper injured herself to strengthen her case. The housekeeper also has filed a civil suit over the alleged March 15 assault.

Zhang, the exiled founder of China's Zhong Gong spiritual sect, has been living in the United States under special circumstances since April 2001, after Chinese dissidents and U.S. political leaders like Republican Senators Trent Lott of Mississippi and Jesse Helms of North Carolina rallied to support him.

His sect is a variation of the "qi gong" movement whose followers attempt to tap cosmic energies through deep breathing and slow, repetitive movements to improve well-being.

The Chinese government has banned the movement as an "evil cult" accused of "using feudal superstition to deceive the masses."

If convicted of a felony, Zhang could be deported to China, where he's charged with raping several women and could also be persecuted for his public criticisms of the Chinese government.

Deputy District Attorney Valerie Little urged the judge to increase Chang's bail from $100,000 to $300,000 and suggested Chang may be a flight risk. Chang's high-profile attorney, Mark Geragos -- who also represents accused double-murderer Scott Peterson and singer Michael Jackson -- scoffed at the suggestion.

"Where's he going to go? He's here on asylum," Geragos argued. "If he goes to any other country, the Chinese government would pick him up..." Judge Morris rejected the prosecutor's argument and left Zhang's bail at $100,000.

During their closing arguments, the attorneys disagreed over who started the argument that ended in the charges against Zhang. The alleged victim testified she was beaten for an hour and fled from the house in fear for her life, hiding for hours before contacting police.

Geragos said she left the house in anger, went shopping along a nearby boulevard and then lied about the beating and greatly exaggerated her injuries.

Geragos suggested that his client should be charged with misdemeanors, not felonies.

Morris conceded that he has some concerns about inconsistent statements and a lack of evidence of significant injuries. He noted, however, that the threshold of proof in a preliminary hearing is much lower than at a trial.

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