A Chinese national who sought asylum in the United States three years ago won more than a legal verdict in a prostitution case Wednesday.
Cleveland County prosecutors alleged Jinxang Shi engaged in prostitution when she reportedly agreed to massage the genitals of an undercover police officer on March 5, 2019. Shi was the owner of Bamboo Massage, 2305 W. Lindsey, in Norman.
However, the six-member jury didn't agree with the district attorney's allegations and found Shi not guilty after deliberating for more than an hour. The case, which was conducted before Special Judge Steve Stice, involved an audio recording from a device the undercover officer used in the sting operation.
The audio was unclear at times, causing confusion for the jurors. There was also a language barrier that created issues with the prosecution's case. Shi does not speak English. An interpreter was used during the two-day misdemeanor trial so Shi could understand the witnesses against her and the judge's rulings. The interpreter also was used when the woman testified on her own behalf.
Defense attorney Steve Nash said the not guilty verdict was cause for celebration because Shi would have been deported to China if the case had gone the other way.
"She would have lost more than a criminal case. She would have lost her freedom," the attorney said. "She applied for political asylum because China forced her to have an abortion. A conviction would have sent her back there because she was critical in her application [for asylum] of China."
Specifically, Shi wrote in the application that she did not favor the one-child rule in China.
After the verdict was read aloud by the judge, Shi cried, bowed toward the jurors and thanked them.
"After she was arrested, her American husband left her, she lost the lease on the business, she lost her dog, she lost her apartment and she's been caring for her pregnant daughter-in-law in Houston," Nash said. "She'll land on her feet and do well."
The case originated after Norman police received a call from a nearby business owner claiming several men were frequenting Bamboo Massage. Norman police forwarded the tip to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug because of that agency's work in human trafficking.
OBN Agent Patti Figuera testified she set up the operation to determine if Shi was a victim of human or sex trafficking. An undercover officer from the District 21 drug task force posed as a customer wanting a massage. He paid Shi $40 and was taken back to a room where he disrobed and a towel was placed over his buttocks.
The officer testified Shi gave him a normal massage, but the massage soon moved toward his genitals, according to testimony and a police affidavit. At that point, Shi pointed at the officer's penis and asked if he wanted a massage at that spot. The officer asked about the additional cost and Shi reportedly held up four fingers meaning $40, the officer testified.
However, Shi denied in her testimony that she asked to massage the officer's genitals or held up four fingers to symbolize $40.
"Her version is that didn't happen," Nash said during closing arguments. "If she truly pointed at his penis and held up four fingers that will be the least serious prostitution case you'll ever hear about."
Nash asked the jury to talk about which person "did the inducement" and "who did the enticing?" The defendant's attorney also told jurors that Shi was "living the dream" in America and that she saved "enough money to buy a business." He also reminded jurors that the initial complaint was filed before Shi purchased Bamboo Massage.
Prosecutors declined to comment about the verdict.