Itaewon murder retrial set to start

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Itaewon murder retrial set to start

The two original suspects in a high-profile 1997 Itaewon murder case could potentially be brought back together today in a preparatory session before the start of legal proceedings in the trial against 36-year-old American Arthur Patterson.

Patterson and his friend, Edward Lee, were accused of killing Hongik University student Cho Jung-pil at a fast food restaurant on April 3, 1997, in Itaewon, a popular foreigner-friendly district in central Seoul.

Cho was found dead in the bathroom of a Burger King, stabbed nine times in his neck and chest. The two men, then 18, were both in the restaurant at the time of the murder and both pinpointed the other in the killing.

Lee, a Korean-American, was later convicted for the murder but was acquitted of those charges in 1998 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the murder had been carried out by one man.

He will attend as a witness in the trial against Patterson, who was originally charged and convicted for weapons possession and destruction of evidence before fleeing to the United States in 1999.

“We have confirmed that Lee … is currently staying in Korea,” a prosecutor from the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office said on Wednesday, adding that it was planning to request Lee as a witness in the preparatory session to be held at the Seoul Central District Court.

The same day, Lee’s father appeared on a radio program to reiterate that his son would testify in the case.

“My son came to Korea about a month ago and he will attend [the preparatory session] as a witness,” he said. “We want the case closed this time so that we can finally be free from it.”

The prosecution has indicted Patterson as a joint principal offender in Cho’s murder.

Lee’s acquittal means he cannot be indicted.

Patterson was living in Korea at the time of the murder as the son of a U.S. military contractor and a Korean mother. Lee was a student in Seoul.

Patterson was convicted as an accomplice in initial proceedings and sentenced to 18 months in prison, although he was granted a special pardon on Liberation Day in 1998. He fled Korea the following year, taking advantage of the prosecution’s failure to extend his travel ban.

In 2011, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted Patterson for murder and began extradition proceedings in collaboration with U.S. officials following renewed interest in the case, prompted by the release of the film “The Case of the Itaewon Homicide” (2009) and complaints from Cho’s family.

In the new trial, the prosecution reportedly plans to reassess the statement given by Patterson, who has stuck with his original story that Lee murdered the victim under the influence of drugs.

However, Patterson’s legal attorney has insisted the prosecution failed to prove that his client committed a crime.

“Prosecutors indicted Patterson as a joint principal offender because they only have to prove that Patterson colluded with Lee,” said Oh Byeong-ju, a lawyer at OK Law Firm. “I believe the prosecution will argue that Patterson was the murderer in later hearings.”

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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