Jurors were asked Wednesday to decide whether the longtime martial arts instructor for former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona was protecting himself or consumed with rage when he pulled a gun during a golf course dispute.
Raymond Yi, a former member of Carona's troubled reserve deputy program, was characterized in closing arguments by prosecutor Nimisha Gohil as a man who completely lost his cool after a member of the foursome playing in front of him hit Yi's ball into a water hazard, then refused to get it.
Defense attorney John D. Barnett countered that Yi was acting in self-defense after a golf club was swung in his direction and that the credibility of the alleged victims was undermined by inconsistencies in their testimony and their pending $10-million lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department.
Yi sat calmly next to Barnett as his trial came to a close in a Chino courtroom nearly three years after he was arrested. Charged with assault with a firearm and making criminal threats, he is being prosecuted in San Bernardino County because the confrontation occurred there.
Yi was sworn in as a reserve deputy in 2002 and was issued a badge and gun from the department as part of the appointment. He is a black belt in taekwondo and told The Times after his arrest that he had been Carona's martial arts instructor for several years.
The case drew headlines because Yi was among several friends and allies of Carona who allegedly misused their badges. The series of embarrassments raised questions about whether the former sheriff was handing out the official credentials as political favors -- an allegation that Carona denied.
Yi's troubles began on a Sunday in 2005 at the 13th hole of a course at the Los Serranos Golf & Country Club in Chino Hills, where he was playing in a foursome behind a group that included Marcelo Bautista, a Santa Rosa math teacher, and his uncle, Gustavo Resendiz.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Gohil summed up the events that followed as a clear case of "golf rage" that started after Yi hit a ball onto the fairway where Bautista and his group were playing. She said testimony and other evidence showed that after Bautista ignored Yi's demand to get Yi's ball out of a water hazard, the defendant pulled his gun and threatened the men's lives twice, growing increasingly angry because his ego had been bruised.
"It's no longer about the golf ball," she said, "it's about getting the respect he deserves."
The first time, Gohil said, Yi ordered Bautista and Resendiz to "Freeze. Freeze." When they didn't, she said, he followed them to the green and pushed Resendiz. Yi then pointed the gun at Resendiz and told him to "Get out of the way, old man. I could kill you," Gohil said.
Yi did not take the stand during the trial. The three golfers who played with him backed up his story. A cousin of Bautista, who was present, testified that he didn't see Yi push Resendiz, Barnett said.
"Cousin Frank said it didn't happen. He didn't get the memo," Barnett said, drawing chuckles from the jury.
The defense attorney said the testimony showed that Yi pulled his gun only once, and then only after Resendiz had swung a golf club his way. He also said the government had failed to prove that the gun was loaded, and he repeatedly reminded jurors of the civil lawsuit filed by Bautista and his uncle "for a lot of dough."
"They have a pretty big motive," he said. "$10 million."