China virus prompts delay of retrial in broken thumb case

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The retrial of a Delaware man who acknowledged having broken a thumb off a $4.5 million statue at a Philadelphia museum has been indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak in the home country of the relic.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that federal prosecutors said in a court filing last week that several Chinese witnesses essential to their case against 26-year-old Michael Rohana would be unable to travel to Philadelphia for the Feb. 18 retrial.

Their arrival has been barred under the travel ban instituted on foreign nationals who have visited China in the last two weeks.

Rohana was attending a Christmas-themed ugly sweater party at the Franklin Institute in 2017 when authorities say he entered a closed exhibit of ancient Chinese terra cotta warrior statues, snapped the thumb of a statute called “The Cavalryman” and left with it.

The vandalism, captured on surveillance cameras, outraged Chinese officials. Rohana told jurors it was a stupid, drunken mistake.

A jury deadlocked in April in his trial on charges of theft and concealment of an object of cultural heritage. Rohana’s lawyers argued he wasn’t charged under the right law.

Federal public defender Catherine Henry said in closing arguments that the charges “were made for art thieves — think like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or ‘Mission: Impossible.’” Rohana, she said, “wasn’t in ninja clothing sneaking around the museum. He was a drunk kid in a bright green ugly Christmas sweater.”