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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 27, 2006

Don’t rush to judgment,
Get to know your neighbor instead

Our American justice system rests on the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. All of us would be wise to adopt that posture.

Last month, we ran a story on our front page with a four-column headline: "Facing federal charge, Wang gets bail."

Our story began, "Jun Wang lost his job this week and may soon lose his Guilderland home. A microbiologist who grew up in China and has been in the United States on a work visa for 13 years, Wang, 36, was arrested on Friday, charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States."

The story was important news and deserved the play we gave it.

We were careful to report not just the accusation by the federal government — the conspiracy charge, a felony offense, came from violating the 1974 Arms Export Control Act — but also to look further.

The indictment described the palm-sized devices, manufactured by a California-based company, Crossbow Technology, Inc., that Wang had sent to China — the Crossbow Attitude & Heading Reference System AHRS400CC — saying, "The defense weapon uses also include missiles and torpedoes." The indictment said the devices are prohibited from export to China without a license from the Department of State.

However, we also reported that the Crossbow company has a branch in China that sells the same type of equipment and we reported on the stance made in court, during three days of detention hearings, by Wang’s lawyer, Kevin Luibrand. He cited the fact that Crossbow maintains a website in China that sells the same items to Chinese consumers. Luibrand also said that the items Wang shipped are not restricted by Category XII of the United States Munitions List, which was claimed in the indictment.

Last week, we ran another front-page story, again with a four-column headline: "Further charges pending: Wang is home after government admits mistake." The news deserved equal play.

This time, we reported that federal Magistrate Randolph Treece had released Wang, allowing him to live in his Guilderland home, with conditions that he surrender his passport, report his whereabouts, and continue to post $250,000 for bond.

The assistant United States attorney handling the prosecution, Thomas Capezza, had written to Treece, acknowledging "a significant change in circumstances" since the initial detention hearing. While the government had initially contended that the Crossbow device was on the United States Munitions List, Capezza wrote to the judge, "On March 31, 2006, the government learned that the State Department reversed its prior determination and reclassified the AHRS400CC as dual use technology regulated by the Department of Commerce."

He concedes in his letter that Wang can no longer be detained as a danger to the community but asserts Wang still poses "a serious risk of flight." So Wang was released from his weeks at a detention center but remains largely in his Guilderland home, having to report his leaving for errands.

Capezza told our reporter, Jarrett Carroll, that he will remain on the case and is working on new indictment charges. Luibrand speculates they may be tax-related.

In the meantime, Wang’s life has been turned upside down. He politely declined an interview with us so we can only imagine what his life must be like now.

Because of the charges, he has lost his job. Magistrate Treece said in court, summarizing testimony in the initial detention hearing, "Mr. Wang was a superb employee." Wang worked as a research scientist for a not-for-profit firm, Health Research Incorporated, contracted through the New York State Department of Health.

"He was one of the top microbiologists in his respected field, which is DNA," his lawyer said, adding that Wang’s research was reported in national and international publications.

At the detention hearings last month, during which his employment status became a central issue on whether or not he would become a flight risk, Wang’s supervisor, Michael Nazarko, testified, "Mr. Wang’s employment will be terminated," despite Wang’s good track record. His employers cited excessive personal use of his computer at work as reason to fire him. One of the most visited websites on Wang’s computer was ESPN.com, a website with sports news.

Wang was not the only employee to use the website, Luibrand told us; several other employees were using the website and making bets on basketball teams, he said.

We bet those workers have not lost their jobs.

Luibrand also told our reporter, Carroll, that a representative from Wang’s work revealed that Wang was fired, not for looking at a sports website on his work computer, but because the allegations might affect their department’s grant money.

Allegations are just that. A person should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Wang could have been suspended until his trial was over; he should not have been fired.

We would hope, seeing the admission of the government mistake on the felony charge, that Health Research Incorporated would admit its own mistake and re-hire Wang.

The unfair firing has set off a chain reaction. It will affect Wang’s working visa and will, in all likelihood, affect his citizenship application. Wang has been living in the United States since 1993, spending seven years at the University of Illinois to complete his Ph.D.; his permanent resident status has been pending for years, Luibrand said in court.

Wang appears to us to be a man who added to our nation, with valuable research skills, and wanted to become a citizen.

He chose to settle in our town. He and his wife bought a house at 28 Westmere Terrace, a quiet dead-end street near Crossgates Mall, where they live with their baby. Our reporter, Saranac Hale Spencer, knocked on the doors of Wang’s neighbors when news of his arrest first broke. None of the neighbors were friends with the Wangs.

"I didn’t even know their last names until I saw it in the paper," said one neighbor.

Living in a suburban town where appearances matter, several neighbors praised Wang for the way he kept his yard. "There was no one living there for a while so their grass was up to two or three feet and he was out there scything it," said neighbor Berry Howe.

"They picked every weed out one at a time," said neighbor Leam Breslin.

We admire these two for making kind observations about the Wangs in the midst of harsh accusations.

How easy it is to not know our neighbors, especially when they are newcomers or may appear different than us. "Nobody on this street ever had anything to do with them," one of the Wangs’ neighbors said, as he spoke fondly of long-time neighbors.

Now is the time for the Wangs’ Guilderland neighbors to make an effort to know them.

Wang was widely portrayed in the media as a weapons smuggler while now it appears he is actually someone who failed to file correct paperwork — an offense that would result in a routine fine. The court of public opinion can often hand down a harsher sentence than a real court.

As a newspaper, we’ll continue to fairly report facts as they unfold, telling all sides to the story. As Americans, we’ll hold off judging Wang, presuming his innocence until he’s proven guilty. As Guilderland residents, we’ll urge the community and Wang’s neighbors to be just that — neighborly.

Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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