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home : community : community Friday, October 20, 2017

6/15/2016 3:36:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Surviving The American Legal System

By Macy Yang

Inside a Merced, California jail a young father, Yeng Kong Moua, awaits the fate of his sentence which will be handed to him on July 15. On the outside, a family tries to make sense of the American legal system as they endure the pain of their son's arrest, trial and conviction for a crime they believe their son is incapable of committing. Yeng Kong was arrested more than two years ago on charges of sexual assault against seven women in the north Merced and Atwater areas. He is one of seven children and the youngest son of Vang Kong Moua and Xia Thao.

The Moua family feel powerless and frustrated fighting a legal system that they don't understand because of their limited English. The Mouas arrived in the U.S. in 2005 when Yeng Kong was 15 years old. Thao says, "Yeng Kong spent a few years at Merced High School. Adult school was the next option; instead, Yeng Kong chose to work to help support the family." Thao further states that her son can hardly speak English and often relies on his wife to call into his work to report him sick. After two years in jail her son got used to American food and has learned some English so he's able to ask for what he wants.

According to Thao, seven or eight police officers came to arrest her son. "We didn't understand. We asked for an interpreter, but the only interpreter they offered us was our 16 year old daughter," Thao adds. Thao and other family members believe the police are pinning these crimes on Yeng Kong because of a mistaken identity and their inability to find the real suspect. According to Nou Moua, Yeng Kong's sister, "A picture of the man they said committed the crime shown at the trial looks nothing like my brother. The person in the photo was much lighter and parted his hair in the middle," says Moua. Chia Vang, the wife of Yeng Kong, said at least two of the victims failed to identify Yeng Kong at a photo line up and pointed out two other people instead. Employment records were presented at the trial that showed Yeng Kong was at work during some of the alleged assaults.

The close-knit family remains in disbelief. "I only heard about things like this on the news, and never thought it would happen to my family, especially my brother," says Moua. Moua who is the oldest said she raised her brother and knows him like her own son. "Yeng Kong likes to joke with us, but never with outsiders because he is so shy," she says. "He never got into any kind of trouble or had problems with people. He is a good son, a good family man," Thao adds. According to Moua when her brother wanted to get married, he showed a picture of his then girlfriend to his family and asked for their approval first. Feeling like a parent to her brother, Moua and her husband paid Yeng Kong's bride dowry because she felt that close to him.

A lot of things have changed for the Moua family. The elder Moua, Vang Kong Moua, suffered a debilitating stroke that the family believed was caused by the stress and circumstances of Yeng Kong's arrest. "My husband misses our son a lot and cries for him," says Thao. "My husband, who was the only provider in our household, he took care of everything like paying the bills and providing for us. We have two small children, one barely three months old at the time he was arrested. We have to put our life on hold because of this," a frustrated Vang states. Family members say Yeng Kong worked long hours at a poultry plant in Merced. He had been there for more than two years and worked a lot of overtime in order to support two families. He rarely goes out and hardly even knows his way around the small town of Merced. "Without Yeng Kong," says Moua "we hardly attend family gatherings because it's hard to enjoy celebrations and eat while my brother is locked up behind bars."

For the Moua family the legal battle has been difficult. Without much financial resources, they funded their legal defense from family and community donations, but now they feel they have exhausted all sources of support for an appeal. They spent more than $27,000 on an attorney from Wisconsin and political consultant turned legal interpreter, Locha Thao. Without any prior criminal record, the Moua's hope for leniency from the judge at sentencing. Yeng Kong faces up to a maximum of 35 years.

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