Appeals court acquits Sri Lankan of rape, robbery

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Appeals court acquits Sri Lankan of rape, robbery

A Daegu couple’s campaign to get justice for their dead daughter ended in failure when an appeals court Tuesday upheld a controversial verdict that acquitted a Sri Lankan man of participating in a gang rape of the girl and robbing her 17 years ago, citing a lack of evidence.

The parents believe three Sri Lankan men raped their daughter, Jeong Eun-hee, an 18-year-old freshman at Keimyung University, after she got drunk at the school’s autumn festival. After the alleged rape, Jeong was fatally struck by a 23-ton cargo truck as she staggered along the Guma Expressway, now the Jungbu Naeryuk Expressway.

The 49-year-old Sri Lankan, only identified by the initial “K,” was acquitted by the Daegu High Court of kidnapping the woman with two of his Sri Lankan colleagues, stealing her personal belongings and running away, leaving her staggering on the highway. Prosecutors believe she staggered for about 100 meters (328 feet) down the road from the scene of the alleged rape before being hit by the truck.

The appeals court said it “acknowledges” the possibility of the rape, but added the suspect couldn’t face that charge alone because the 10-year statute of limitations had already passed.

At the time of Jeong’s death, police officers botched the investigation.

On Oct. 17, 1998, Jeong attended the school’s festival. When last seen by her friends she was quite drunk.

During the initial investigation by the Daegu police in 1998, officers discovered a pair of panties near the death site. Forensic experts examined the panties and concluded there were traces of semen on them.

The police, however, decided the underwear did not belong to the victim, because they were “too old-fashioned and threadbare.”

They tested the semen for DNA but found no match in their database. The case was wrapped up with police saying the woman had simply wandered drunk in front of the incoming truck.

Jeong’s parents refused to believe that and bombarded the government with pleas and set up a website devoted to their daughter and the mysterious circumstances of her death.

Daegu prosecutors finally reopened the case in 2013. To their surprise, prosecutors found that the DNA matched that of a 46-year-old Sri Lankan who was arrested in 2011 for attempting to lure a teenager into prostitution. He was married to a Korean woman in 2002 and ran a grocery store for foreigners in Daegu.

Two other Sri Lankans whom prosecutors allege took part in the gang-rape were reportedly deported a few years ago after their visas ran out. Korea does not have a an extradition treaty with Sri Lanka. All three were industrial trainees.

The 10-year statute of limitation for rape had already expired, so the prosecutors searched for other charges to lodge against him. They found witnesses who reportedly said they heard from K’s accomplices that they raped a young Korean teenager and then stole her books and student ID card in 1998.

The statute of limitations for rape and robbery is fifteen years, so K was charged with that.

Prosecutors filed charges in 2013, just a month ahead of the expiration. They asked for life imprisonment for the suspect.

The Daegu High Court failed to acknowledge there were accomplices in the alleged rape, and said testimonies from witnesses who claim they were directly informed about the rape and the stealing 17 years ago were “too elaborate to believe.”

The prosecution said it will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN AND KIM YUN-HO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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