Trial in beating of panhandler goes to jury

Young Lee, left, one of the founders of the Pinkberry yogurt empire, with his attorney Philip Kent Cohen during his arraignment in 2012. The defense argued that another man beat the victim with a tire iron. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The co-founder of frozen yogurt giant Pinkberry was convicted Friday of beating a homeless man with a tire iron while the victim panhandled on the side of an East Hollywood street.

Young Lee, 48, became upset in June 2011 that Daniel Bolding had flashed a tattoo depicting a stick figure of a couple having sex to the people in the car -- including Lee's fiancée. Lee drove away but  returned with another man and beat Bolding. 

The jury deliberated for less than two days before reaching a guilty verdict in the three-week-long trial. 

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Henry Hall said that evidence during the trial showed that Lee had made significant threats to witnesses and considered him a "threat to the community." 

Lee was remanded with no bail and is set to be sentenced Jan. 14.  Lee -- who helped found Pinkberry in 2005 but is no longer involved with the company -- faces a maximum of seven years in state prison.

During closing arguments Wednesday, the defense attorney and prosecutor said the outcome of the case depended on whether the jury believed Lee was the one who wielded the tire iron. "This case is not 'Who did it?'" Deputy Dist. Atty. Bobby Zoumberakis told the jury. "It's 'Who did what?'"

Phillip Kent Cohen, Lee's attorney, said he and the prosecutor agreed on "96% of what happened: that there was a tire iron and that [Bolding] was given great bodily injury." But Cohen said his client never held the tire iron, and he attempted to cast doubt on the testimony of witnesses who identified Lee as the attacker, including saying that Bolding had "flat-out lied."

In the initial police report, Cohen said, Bolding alleged that he was arguing with the driver, whom he identified as Lee. Bolding said the man in the passenger seat had the tire iron. But during the trial, Bolding testified that Lee had beaten him with the tire iron.

Bolding has also filed a personal injury lawsuit against Lee seeking damages for the attack. Zoumberakis showed pictures of a bloody Bolding to the jury and argued that Bolding may have given an incorrect report because he was in pain.

Cohen countered that the rest of the police report -- which included the correct time, location and description of the tire iron -- was accurate.

Cohen also said witnesses gave conflicting information about the clothing worn by the man wielding the tire iron, leaving open the possibility that it was the second man, not Lee, who was involved.

james.barragan@latimes.com