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Jury Murder Trial Sees 3 Days of Drama

Posted December. 25, 2008 06:43,   


“Upon returning home from an Internet café, the defendant stabbed his mother in her hand with a knife out of anger while arguing with her over sleeping pills. He set his home on fire around 7 a.m. Oct. 1.” (Prosecutor)

“He snatched sleeping pills from his mother, who was suffering from alcoholism and addiction to pills, as she was about to take them. Then he took the medicine himself and fell asleep, but did not set his home on fire.” (Attorney)

In a jury trial at the Seoul Central District Court this week, prosecutors and the defense fought over the fate of a 24-year-old man “Cho,” who is charged with stabbing his mother to death after quarreling with her and setting his home on fire.

Cho flatly denied the accusations against him, and sought a jury-based trial, something which Korea introduced this year.

Prosecutors submitted as evidence pictures of Cho’s home in disarray due to his quarrel with his mother, as well as a knife found at the crime scene. They also asked the court to bring in a doctor to testify that Cho’s intake of sleeping pills might have affected his crime.

His attorney said, “Cho was oblivious of the situation after snatching the sleeping pills and taking them. There is no evidence that Cho set his home on fire.” The defense asked the court to subpoena Cho’s acquaintances as witnesses.

In the first day of the trial, policemen and firefighters testified as the situation began turning against the defendant. The police officer who visited the crime site said, “When I got there after hearing the home was on fire, Cho was squatting down absentmindedly outside his home. When I asked if it was his home, he just lowered his head.”

A firefighter who inspected the scene said, “It is uncertain when the fire erupted, but chances are that arson caused it.”

The case took a number of twists and turns after Cho’s father and acquaintances testified on the second day of the trial. Cho’s parents were divorced.

Cho’s father said, “He would feel nervous because the victim fell asleep without putting out her cigarette butt, but whenever she took sleeping pills (before they got a divorce), she often was out of her mind. Her character was generally belligerent as well,” indicating Cho’s mother started the fire.

A medical doctor with expertise in sleeping pills said, “A person taking sleeping pills for a prolonged period could develop problems because of possible loss of control over behavior.”

The owner of a bar where Cho’s mother used to work said, “The victim often bragged about her son before she passed away. The mother and son were very friendly; she even said she wanted to buy him brand name cooking utensils because her son landed a job at a famous restaurant in Japan.”

Cho’s neighbors had a different story, however. One said, “I heard the mother and son quarreling with each other.”

Whenever new witnesses were brought in, not only prosecutors and the defense but also jurors asked a flurry of questions. Interrogations of as many as 13 witnesses ended after 6 p.m. Tuesday. One juror suffering from back pain had to leave since the marathon trial lasted for a prolonged period of time.

The jurors deliberated for three and a half hours after eating a light sandwich dinner arranged by the court. They found Cho guilty of injuring his mother in a 6-3 vote, but not guilty of killing her by setting his home on fire, citing lack of direct evidence suggesting guilt.

Early yesterday morning, the court sentenced Cho to three years in prison for injuring his mother with a knife, agreeing with the jury’s conclusion.

dawn@donga.com bell@donga.com