San Francisco– A woman wrongly identified as being a member of a “blessing scam” ring was exonerated on Thursday, October 18 after a jury found her not guilty of criminal conspiracy, Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced last week.
Yiyuan Li, 61, was just about to board an airplane home for China this summer when she was arrested at the airport and charged with embezzlement of an elderly person, grand theft, and criminal conspiracy, all felonies. If convicted, Li faced up to 4 years in prison, according to her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Seiya Johnson.
The jury learned that the whole thing began when a victim of a blessing scam had erroneously identified Ms. Li in a photo lineup. A blessing scam is a scam that is perpetrated against elderly people. The object is to persuade the person to put valuables into a bag. That bag is then swapped out for one full of worthless contents.
“There is no doubt that this woman was victimized,” said Johnson of the woman who lost jewelry and nearly $13,000 in cash in the scam. “But we wanted the jurors to understand that they had the wrong person arrested for the crime.”
The victim testified that there were three people involved with stealing from her. She initially said that Ms. Li merely resembled one of the suspects, but then that progressed into believing that she was indeed the second suspect in the ring, the jury learned.
“Her identification of Ms. Li was very shaky,” said Johnson. “They had the wrong person.”
A defense expert in eyewitness identification further solidified that the authorities had incorrectly arrested Li, Johnson said.
In the end, the jury took about two and a half hours to reach a unanimous verdict of “not guilty.”
“Eyewitness identification is notoriously inaccurate,” said Adachi. “It took a vigorous defense and a careful, thoughtful jury to come to the right conclusion in this case: that they had the wrong woman.”