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Two murders, different rulings spark outrage

A jealous boyfriend and vengeful mother meet diverging fates
June 05,2017
Contrasting sentences for two murders that occurred in the same province are causing an outcry online and off.

On Thursday, a court sentenced a 39-year-old man surnamed Lee to three years in prison for punching his girlfriend to death in North Chungcheong and secretly burying her body in concrete four years ago. It was the lightest sentence one could receive for involuntary manslaughter.

The next day, a court sentenced a 46-year-old mother surnamed Kim to 10 years in prison for stabbing her daughter’s teacher to death after the teacher allegedly raped the girl. She had reported herself to police.

“The court doled out a lighter sentence on the man saying his action was involuntary and accidental,” said Choi Jung-hoon, 35. “But nonetheless, he buried the body and concealed the fact for four years. Isn’t that a heavy crime? I also cannot agree with the court’s explanation that it lightened his sentence because he reached an agreement with relatives of the victim.”

In January, Mr. Lee, the boyfriend, was originally sentenced to five years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and concealing a body. He filed an appeal, and the court reduced the sentence to three years, saying the murder was accidental and that relatives of the victim “do not want the man punished.”

Lee told authorities that his live-in girlfriend expressed interest one night in September 2012 in meeting a man that patronized a bar run by Lee. He said he was already angry at the fact that she had introduced herself to the man at the bar earlier in the evening as a “friend” of Lee’s rather than his “girlfriend.”

Lee then punched her face four times while she was lying down at their home in Eumseong County, North Chungcheong, police said, and she died on the spot.

Lee buried her body in a local field, and police were able to track him down last year. The prosecution sought a 12-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter and concealment of a body.

“Prosecutors charged the man who hid his crime for four years with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder, saying that the murder was accidental because the man said he couldn’t contain his anger,” a Twitter user wrote on a tweet Saturday that has since been retweeted more than 220 times. “The fact that prosecutors are allowing the convict to have sway with his arguments is only one of the many problems regarding this case.”

By contrast, Mrs. Kim, the mother, was sentenced to 10 years for killing a 51-year-old teacher at her daughter’s high school in February after her daughter told her she had been raped by the man. She reported herself to police about an hour after she stabbed him at a cafe in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

“The mother reported herself to police, while the man who killed his girlfriend tried to hide the fact for four years,” said Kang Shin-ho, 40. “The court said it’s important to focus on whether the murder was accidental or not, but regardless of that, the two cases both ended with dead people. I cannot comprehend such contrasting sentences on the two murder cases.”

Kim had told the court she killed the man accidentally, but the court argued Kim had planned the murder by “sending a text message to a relative suggesting she was planning to kill the teacher, and preparing a weapon in advance to meeting the teacher,” adding that “revenge murder calls for a heavy sentence.”

Prison sentences for murder start from five years, while sentences for involuntary manslaughter start from three years.

BY IM JANG-HYUK, CHOI JONG-KWON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]