By Sara Jean Green
SEATTLE (AP) — In the weeks before Christmas, Jarred Ha agonized over his decision, filling three pages with charts outlining the pros and cons of accepting a plea deal or taking his chances at trial.
If he took the deal, Ha would still have a felony conviction on his record with no guarantee he wouldn’t also face up to 90 days in jail. But if he went to trial and lost, he was looking at 12 years in prison.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for the 22-year-old aspiring accountant, who got kicked out of the University of Washington and booted from his apartment within a day of his arrest last year for stabbing a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
“I made the decision the day before Christmas Eve. I was looking at my charts and I felt like I didn’t do anything wrong,” Ha said in an interview. “I had to risk it.”
Charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and fourth-degree assault for punching a young woman in the face, Ha claimed self-defense — and was found not guilty by a King County jury on Jan. 15.
The same jury also returned a special verdict, rendering a somewhat rare finding that Ha used lawful force to defend himself. That finding means he is eligible to be reimbursed by the state for the roughly $40,000 his family spent on his criminal defense.
“What that means is any reasonable person in his shoes would do the same thing,” said defense attorney Zach Wagnild, who represented Ha with co-counsel Michelle Scudder.
King County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Mark Larson declined to discuss details of Ha’s case but said his office “always respects the jury’s verdict.”
Now that his freedom is no longer in peril, Ha wants to clean the taint from his name, resume his studies at the UW and move on with his life.
But Ha and his family are bracing for another legal battle, this time against a civil complaint filed by Graham Harper, a 20-year-old UW student and National Guard reservist who was stabbed by Ha.
Harper had been hailed as a hero by his fraternity brothers and the media after the incident, and portrayed as a brave young man who suffered grievous wounds while coming to the defense of female students.
Walked friend home
Just after midnight on Jan. 25, 2015, Ha and a group of friends set out on a “21 Run” to a trio of University District bars to celebrate one woman’s 21st birthday. At the last bar, the young woman fell asleep at the table, so the group walked her home to a U District rental house shared by members of the UW women’s rugby club.
Ha said he’d been drinking that night but wasn’t drunk.
He and a male friend waited outside the “rugby house,” where a party was under way, as others helped put the woman to bed.
Ha was then greeted by one of the rugby players who had attended the party but lived in the same five-unit apartment building as Ha and his roommates, about a mile south.
According to Ha, she routinely took up two parking spots at their apartment building, which had become a sore subject among the other tenants. He suggested she needed “to park straighter.”
The woman punched Ha in the head, according to Ha and the defense’s trial brief. She swung again, he blocked the blow, and she ended up on the ground.
As he reached to help her up, he said, he was punched in the head from behind as up to four other women joined the fray.
“I didn’t know who they were, what gender they were. I’m pushing back, punching back, just trying to get out of there,” he said.
At least one of his punches connected, blackening a woman’s eye.
As Ha and his friend walked away, the women yelled taunts and one followed the men a short distance, swatting at Ha’s head.
Harper’s version differs sharply. He said in an interview that he came out of the rugby house, saw a girl crying and inserted himself between Ha and the women. He said he told Ha to leave, and Ha started walking away, but then came back.
“I took that as an aggressive gesture because I had seen him do violence before,” Harper said, referring to the fight with the women.
He acknowledges slamming Ha into a car: “I slammed him in the car one time — it’s not like I picked him up and repeatedly bashed his head. He had no more than a black eye.”
Harper said he never saw Ha’s knife. His left leg, chest and groin were cut and one jab punctured his abdomen, causing a small section of intestine to protrude.
But Ha and other witnesses testified that the women attacked Ha. Then, after that altercation was over, Harper ran Ha down and started beating him, they said.
Ha, who said he feared he would die from having his head repeatedly slammed into a car, said he showed Harper his knife and told him to back off, then wasn’t sure that he’d actually cut Harper.
The jury also heard that Harper, who was 19 at the time, had a blood alcohol content of 0.13, well above the legal limit of 0.02 for those under 21.
Friends Shane Colburn and Elana Helfand, both UW students who were sober and had no connection to anyone involved in the fight, happened upon the scene as Ha tussled with the women. They saw the first woman fall to the ground and watched Ha walk away as “this other girl was punching and slapping him in the head,” said Colburn.
“He wasn’t hitting her back, more like blocking her strikes,” said Colburn, 22, who along with Helfand testified at Ha’s trial.
That’s when Harper came out of the house and went “full-on sprinting” after Ha, “yelling something to the effect of, ‘You never hit girls,’” Colburn said in an interview. “I remember being concerned this was escalating now — the way he was running was aggressive.”
From his vantage, Colburn said, he saw Harper grab Ha and repeatedly ram Ha into parked cars.
“I had my phone out and yelled to them I was going to call the cops,” said Colburn. “Graham was definitely bigger than Jarred.”
He looked away as he spoke with a 911 dispatcher, and when he looked back, Ha was gone and there was blood pooling at Harper’s feet.
Colburn and Helfand tended to Harper and waited with him until the ambulance came.
The incident and Ha’s arrest were covered by Seattle media. Harper was hailed as a hero and a protector of women.
Jurors heard two versions of the events of that night, from Harper and then from Ha, whose account was corroborated by the witnesses. A Seattle man who sat on the jury said initially he assumed that with Harper’s injuries, Ha “was on a rampage.”
“It took a lot of work on our part to realize the exact opposite was true,” said the 52-year-old, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy.
“It was unfortunate Graham had so much physical capability and that Jarred had a weapon,” the juror said. “But they were both young, inexperienced, drinking, and got in over their heads . They got lucky that no one died.”
After finding Ha not guilty, it didn’t take long for the jury to reach the special verdict in Ha’s favor, finding he acted in self-defense, the juror said.
Harper, who is studying political science and international security, was shocked by the verdicts, saying he thought the case against Ha “was a slam dunk.”
“I believe there was a lot of legal manipulation. O.J. got off,” Harper said. “I still believe I was right and he was so, so wrong in hitting those girls.”
While still in jail, Ha was notified that he was suspended from the UW and barred from campus.
Ha said he has attended academic disciplinary hearings and was ordered to take an alcohol-safety class. He has been told by the UW that he can reapply in the fall, but he hopes to get back in before then.
No one else involved in the fight faced disciplinary action, said Ha’s defense team.
Ha, who moved back into his parents’ Bellevue home after they bailed him out of jail, hopes to return to school for the spring quarter.
Norm Arkans, the UW’s associate vice president for media relations, said federal privacy laws prevent him from commenting on Ha’s status.
“My brother got everything taken away from him — his schooling, his friends, his life was just completely put on hold,” said Ha’s older sister, Vanessa, who graduated from the UW in 2012. “It’s just so unfair.”
When Vanessa attended the UW, her father, Joe Ha, became alarmed by the frequent safety alerts his daughter received on her cellphone from UW police. He gave her the choice of carrying a Taser, mace or a knife for protection. She chose mace.
When it was Jarred’s turn to attend the UW, their dad gave him the same choice. After his son decided on a knife, Joe Ha purchased a Karambit, a knife with a curved, 2 1/4-inch fixed blade.
“We talked about it many times,” Joe Ha said, recalling how he lectured his son that the weapon was only to be used “as a last resort.”
Before Ha’s trial, father and son went shopping together at Costco and sat talking in their car in the parking lot.
Joe Ha, who blamed himself for giving his son the knife that had landed him in legal trouble, broke down in tears:
“I said, ‘I ruined your life,’ ” recalled Joe Ha, “and he said, ‘No, Dad. You saved my life.’ ” (end)