Man pleads to lesser charges in abduction
HUNTINGTON -- Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Michael Brown on Friday entered two pleas equaling a conviction to lesser charges in the Oct. 2, 2005, taking of a 19-year-old Cabell-Midland High School student from the Milton Flea Market.
Brown, 46, of McKavett, Texas, was convicted of felony attempt to commit kidnapping and misdemeanor petit larceny. He had been indicted on more serious charges of kidnapping and grand larceny.
Cabell Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon accepted the plea and sentenced Brown to three years probation, two of which will be served on home confinement. He also agreed to pay restitution and court costs.
Brown entered Kennedy pleas to both charges, meaning he did not admit guilt but did not contest that prosecutors had evidence to prove his guilt. The agreement followed hours of negotiations between Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles and defense attorney R. Lee Booten.
The kidnapping victim's father, Xian Jin, and both attorneys expressed satisfaction with the plea agreement. Xian Jin spoke through interpreter Jin Zhao of Marshall University.
"Crime needs to be penalized," he said. "We understand that. But from our own side we do not want to drag out this whole issue into a long prosecution, and we do not want to make these things bigger. If we do, that will be a loss to the whole state and also to our family."
A Cabell County Sheriff's Office investigation led to the January 2006 indictment of Brown. It charged Brown with kidnapping Lui Jin and grand larceny in taking collector coins from her father.
Chiles argued Brown had engaged in business with the Jins on one or two occasions. The prosecutor believed evidence would have proved that Brown grew concerned he had been ripped off with fake coins. That prompted him to visit the flea market posing as a police officer. He threatened Lui Jin with handcuffs and led her away with three boxes of her father's coins.
Brown stopped at a manufactured homes business in Quincy, W.Va., near U.S. 60 in eastern Kanawha County. Chiles said Lui Jin realized Brown wasn't a police officer and escaped from his vehicle. No physical injuries were reported.
In July, Chiles cited testimony from Brown's brother in saying the defendant believed he was making a citizen's arrest. Brown believed the Jins were counterfeiters and illegal aliens under investigation by the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Brown must return Xian Jin's coins as part of the agreement. Restitution and court costs also include $2,500 in counseling for Lui Jin, travel expense for her family and costs incurred in hiring a translator. Booten addressed the court on his client's behalf.
"We are certainly sorry for what, particularly, Lui Jin has had to go through. We understand that whatever Mr. Brown's intentions were, that this placed her in fear of bodily injury or harm," he said. "Certainly she needs that counseling, and we want her to get it. We want her to recover."
Chiles described the agreement as fair. He said two years home confinement is significant when combined with a felony conviction and Brown's reduction in rank and forced retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Brown was demoted and forced out in February 2006 because of misconduct during a Japanese deployment. That military ruling followed the Cabell County indictment.
"Nothing is ever certain in a trial," Chiles said. "You can always Monday morning quarterback, but again I know my case inside and out. I knew the strengths and the weaknesses. I believe this plea is in the best interest of justice."
Friday's hearing started about six hours late, but to some degree that was not unusual. Little activity occurred in the case for more than three years, January 2006 to June 2009. Seven scheduled trial dates were postponed, and no documents were filed for about one year between the summers of 2007 and 2008.
Chiles said the long wait did not weaken his case.
Terms of Brown's sentence confine him to his home state, Texas. O'Hanlon must approve any travel request. He will remain in West Virginia through Monday to finalize documents pertaining to his probation.
O'Hanlon, who addressed Xian Jin in Mandarin, deferred enforcement of the punishment for 60 days to allow West Virginia and Texas officials to finalize arrangements and processing. Brown will remain on a $75,000 bond until that point.
O'Hanlon praised the agreement as "the right thing."
"This is something that no one should ever have to experience," he said. "It is our hope by punishing this man for what he did, that hearing his sorrow for the sorrow that he has caused your family that it will begin that healing process."
Brown faces two to four years behind bars for any violation of his probation or home confinement.