« Return to news

Mistrial declared in case of US man who snapped off, stole Terracotta warrior’s thumb while drunk

April 11, 2019 | In the Press

From Shanghaiist (https://shanghai.ist/2019/04/11/mistrial-declared-in-case-of-us-man-who-snapped-off-stole-terracotta-warriors-thumb-while-drunk/)

Amistrial has been declared in the strange case of the stolen Terracotta warrior thumb after a jury in Philadephia was unable to reach a verdict on the charges presented to them.

Michael Rohana, a 25-year-old man from Delaware, admitted to breaking off the digit from the $4.5 million statue during an “ugly sweater party” at the Franklin Institute museum in 2017. However, his lawyer argued that the charges against Rohana — including the theft and concealment of an object of cultural heritage — were too severe with him facing up to 30 years in prison.

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

The crime occurred on December 21st, 2017. At the time, the exhibit, called “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor,” was closed, however, the door to the exhibit was open with only a black rope held up by two stanchions separating Rohana from 10 terracotta soldiers that had been made more than 2,000 years ago to guard China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.

Once inside, Rohana used his smartphone’s flashlight to look around and snapped a selfie with his arm around one of the warriors. Before leaving, he pried off the statue’s left thumb and concealed it inside his pocket.

It took two weeks for someone to finally notice that the thumb had gone missing. A short time later, an FBI agent knocked on Rohana’s door in Bear, Delaware, asking about the thumb. Rohana then went to his bedroom and pulled the artifact out from the top right drawer of his desk.

At the trial, Rohana claimed that he did not know why he had stolen the thumb, calling it a stupid mistake. “Every time I see this video now, I’m trying to figure out, ‘What was going through your mind? What were you thinking?’ I don’t know how I could have been so stupid,” he said.

After deliberating for more than 11 hours, the jury in the trial was unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial. Prosecutors have said that they will decide by next month whether they will retry the case.

It remains to be seen how Chinese officials will take the nondecision. Last year, an unnamed official from the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center declared that Rohana should be “severely punished” for the theft and destruction of one of China’s national treasures.

Meanwhile, Chinese netizens on Weibo are less than pleased, asking if they are now free to steal the torch from the Statue of Liberty.

Connect with us
Our mission

The Mission of ARCS is to represent and promote Registrars and Collections Specialists, nationally and internationally, to educate them in the professional best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking.

Learn more about ARCS »