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‘Itaewon murder’ family to get gov’t compensation

Court says botching of case caused suffering to victim’s relatives
July 27,2018
A Seoul court on Thursday ordered the government to pay 360 million won ($321,400) in damages to the family of the victim in a savage murder case that took place in Itaewon two decades ago.

Last October, the family of the victim, Cho Jung-pil, filed a lawsuit against the state with the Seoul Central District Court asking for around 1 billion won in compensation for emotional and physical damages they suffered due to the Justice Ministry’s mishandling of its investigation of the murder, which delayed a resolution of the case for over 20 years.

Thursday’s court ruling acknowledged that the state had responsibility for prolonging the family’s suffering over the period. The victim’s parents will each be compensated 150 million won, and Cho’s three older sisters are to be given 20 million won each.

The killer, U.S. citizen Arthur Patterson, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Supreme Court in January for fatally stabbing Cho, then a 22-year-old Hongik University student, on April 3, 1997, in a Burger King in Itaewon in Yongsan District, central Seoul.

Cho was found dead in the bathroom of the fast food restaurant, stabbed nine times in his neck and chest.

His family alleges that the prosecution botched the initial probe by focusing on Patterson’s Korean-American friend Edward Lee, who was with him at the scene of the crime and is said to have encouraged Patterson to “stab anybody” that day.

Lee was convicted of the murder in 1998 but the Supreme Court acquitted him the following year on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Patterson, 17 at the time of the random murder, was originally convicted of possessing an illegal weapon - the knife used for the murder - and attempting to destroy evidence. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1998. In August of that year, however, he was granted a special pardon on Liberation Day and used the opportunity to flee to the United States, taking advantage of the prosecution’s failure to extend his travel ban.

For over a decade, Cho’s family implored the prosecution to continue its investigation, even traveling nationwide to collect signatures on a petition for the cause.

The prosecution was unmoved by their desperation. Cho’s brother-in-law, surnamed Seo, said at a court hearing that the senior prosecutor in charge of the case once even advised him to give up because “the case is unresolvable.”

It was only in 2009, when the hit film “The Case of the Itaewon Homicide” refocused national attention on the case that the prosecution finally re-launched a probe that eventually led to Patterson’s conviction this year.

In 2011, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Patterson for murder and began extradition proceedings in collaboration with U.S. officials.

He was extradited to Korea in September 2015.

In a court hearing, Cho’s mother, Lee Bok-su, recalled the two decades it took to finally jail Patterson as “hellish.”

“We submitted numerous petitions to the prosecution pleading that they find the real criminal, but all we heard back was that they were looking into his whereabouts,” said Lee at a hearing in January. “We would have just shed tears for our son if the prosecution had investigated properly or identified the right criminal in the first place, but because of their mistakes we have suffered further for over 21 years.”

After Thursday’s ruling, the family’s lawyer said the fact that the prosecution did not move forward with the investigation despite new information provided by the family probably convinced the court to rule in the their favor. “We just hope the state does not appeal,” he added.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]