PROVO An Ethiopian who was convicted Friday for possessing his roommate's ATM card may spend the rest of his life in the custody of immigration officials.
As a result of the guilty verdict, Kiddus Chane Yohannes' legal permanent resident status will be reviewed and most likely revoked, said his attorney, Richard Gale.
But Yohannes is in the United States on asylum from Ethiopia and cannot be sent back to that country. Thus, he has the potential to be in the custody of immigration officials indefinitely, Gale said.
Yohannes, 20, faced one third-degree felony of unlawful possession of a financial transaction card in 4th District Court. Police said they found his roommate's debit card in the glove box of his 1992 Plymouth Laser.
After less than two hours of deliberation Friday evening, the eight-member jury returned a guilty verdict. He will be sentenced in March.
Jury foreman David Smith said there was "good, healthy discussion," surrounding the issue of intent. The card was never used but prosecutor Chad Grunander argued and the
jury agreed that someone wouldn't have a debit card belonging to someone else unless they intended to use it.
The trial was conducted without mention of some of Yohannes' activities that gained him police attention in the first place: watching execution-style videos and visiting Web sites showing violence against police officers. He also had been accused of obtaining guns illegally.
"The ultimate issue that we have to address here is whether he is guilty of the crime charged unlawful possession of the transaction card," Judge Gary Stott said.
But it was concerns about Yohannes' reported viewing of violent Web sites that led Yohannes' roommate, Sam Westfahl, the one with the missing ATM card, to alert Orem police on June 8.
However, Gale pointed out that when Westfahl approached police that night, he never mentioned his card, which had been missing for several days.
Yohannes was arrested and charged with providing false information on applications to purchase several firearms, but those charges were dismissed in early January after Stott ruled that the application forms to obtain the gun were too vague.
The Utah Attorney General's Office agreed this week to hear an appeal of the case, as the Utah County Attorney's Office disagrees with Stott's decision.
Grunander focused his closing remarks on Yohannes' motive, means and intent. Earlier that week, Yohannes had found internal wires in his computer intentionally cut and reported to police he thought Westfahl was the culprit.
He also later confronted Westfahl when his car keys turned up missing for several days, though were later found in his room.
"Ask yourself: for what other purpose would Mr. Yohannes have Sam's card?" Grunander asked the jury. "He had a beef with him. Sam owed him $100 in his mind (for repairs) and had taken his keys, in his mind. What else would a (debit) card be used for?"
However, Gale reminded the jury that just because the debit card was found in Yohannes' glove box doesn't mean he intended to use it, a fact that had to be proved for conviction.
He also pointed out concerns that Yohannes' car was missing glass in its sunroof, and a cardboard visor was taped in its place. Thus, the car wasn't secured and anyone else could have entered it.
Smith said the jury didn't really find entrance by someone other than Yohannes probable, as the visor was taped on the outside and inside.
Gale also questioned the fingerprint issue a fingerprint was found on the card but forensic evidence determined it was not Yohannes'.
"The most likely way is to put your thumb on it and pick it up, that's how people pick credit cards up," Gale said. "If that was the case, Mr. Yohannes' fingerprints would be on the credit card. They are not. They are not on that credit card."Before presenting the one witness for the defense, Gale made a motion for a directed verdict, meaning the judge would decide the case rather than a jury, but Stott denied the motion.
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