Four tormentors of private charged with murderMilitary prosecutors decided yesterday to charge four soldiers with murder for the death of a young conscript they systematically beat up, strengthening their initial charges.
Army investigators have been looking into the death of a 22-year-old conscript, identified as Private First Class Yoon. After he died on April 6, subsequent investigations uncovered that he had endured brutal physical abuse and sexual humiliation during his less than four months in the military. Yoon enlisted in December last year and was assigned to serve in the 28th Infantry Division as a medical officer. Two sergeants and two corporals in his unit were investigated and indicted in his death.
Public outrage over the deadly abuse quickly built, and last month the Army moved the jurisdiction of the case from the general military court of the 28th Infantry Division to the Third Army court, a senior court.
Largely overturning an initial probe conducted in May by prosecutors in the 28th Infantry Division, the military prosecution of the Third Army said yesterday it will change the main charge against the four fellow soldiers to murder. Prosecutors in the 28th Infantry Division were going to charge them with manslaughter.
Third Army prosecutors decided to charge the four with murder under the Criminal Act, not the Military Criminal Act. The accused could face capital punishment, lifetime imprisonment or at least five years in prison if convicted of murder, while manslaughter is punishable with at least a three-year prison term.
The latest investigation also said Yoon was beaten to death and that he had endured a long period of brutality. An original investigation in May concluded that Yoon had died of choking on a piece of food during a beating.
Investigators in the Third Army also concluded that so-called crush syndrome and secondary shock from a long period of violence were the main causes of Yoon’s death, citing reviews of medical and autopsy records and consultations with experts.
“Crush syndrome threatened the soldier’s life as muscles were destroyed and blood became toxic due to a beating or a crushing injury,” said Col. Kim Jin-gi, staff judge advocate of the Third Army headquarters. “A secondary shock was from massive blood loss due to injury.”
“In other words, he was beaten to death,” another military official said.
Crush syndrome is usually associated with people who are injured in an earthquake or a collapsed building.
Colonel Kim said the accused soldiers, who had enough medical knowledge as medical officers, were aware of Yoon’s deteriorating physical condition on the day of his final beating but did not stop the brutality.
“Some of the accused were medical students, and they had enough understanding that Yoon could die from continuing beatings and abuse,” he said. “We secured evidence to accuse them with gross negligence.”
The military prosecutors also added eight additional charges including threatening a witness to muzzle him about the case.
As the reinvestigation by Third Army prosecutors altered the charges against the offenders and the analysis of the cause of Yoon’s death, the military was destined to face more criticisms about the 28th Infantry Division’s initial probe.
Lim Tae-hoon, head of the Center for Military Human Rights, said yesterday that the military finally admitted to its poor initial probe and later attempts to cover up the death.
“Those responsible must be investigated and punished,” he said. “The center will continue paying attention to the case with Yoon’s surviving families and public to ensure the trial’s fairness.”
A court-martial of the four soldiers will start at the Third Army Military Court after the Chuseok holidays.
BY SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]