NEW YORK, NY, January 25, 2015-- Although defense attorney Robert Brown maintained Ms. Wei's innocence, prosecutors alleged that Ms. Wei started the fire in order to cover up a theft that she allegedly committed on July 2, 2012.
For several years prior to the fire, Ms. Wei volunteered her time at a cell phone store, which was located in a shopping mini mall at 5818 8th Avenue. Prosecutors presented video surveillance from July 2, 2012 that they say showed Ms. Wei stealing money from the purse of the wife of the owner of the cell phone store. Bo "Paul" Yang, owner of the cellphone store, testified that he called Ms. Wei on the night of July 2 and told her that a theft had occurred in the store and that video surveillance from a jewelry store in the shopping plaza captured the incident.
Video evidence showed that the next morning, July 3, 2012, an individual dressed in a disguise consisting of a large hat, glasses, and a trench coat entered the mini mall, walked behind the counter of the cell phone store, stole money from a drawer behind the counter and then walked off camera. Seconds later this person fled the location with his or her feet on fire after what appeared to be a flash or explosion. The actual arson was not caught on the video. Mr. Yang reviewed the video and opined that Ms. Wei was the person in the disguise. Ms. Wei was arrested hours later, but had no injuries to her feet.
At trial the District Attorney's Office attempted to prove that Yan Wei was the person in the disguise. Four witnesses testified for the prosecution and claimed to recognize Ms. Wei by her "manly hands" and "meaty feet." Mr. Robert Brown, attorney for Yan Wei, told the jury that the prosecutor's theory of the case was a "fairy tale."
Mr. Brown, who was assisted on trial by attorney Michael Cirigliano, exposed the witnesses' incredibility. Mr. Brown presented evidence that the prosecutions witnesses' had committed Medicaid fraud and attempted to collect an insurance claim for items not actually destroyed by the fire. Moreover, Mr. Brown successfully argued that the idea of identifying someone by their hands or feet was preposterous. Mr. Brown also pointed out to the jury that a different employee of the cell phone store was caught on a July 2 video wearing the same sandals as the individual in disguise.
Before the case was brought to trial, Ms. Wei spent almost an entire year in custody. In the end, the jury found Yan Wei not guilty of petit larceny and arson in the second degree.