Retirees work to vindicate the wrongly convicted
These modest money-making enterprises, somewhere between a business and a charity, are formed voluntarily by people with a common social, economic or cultural goal. With the Moon Jae-in administration pushing a “social economy” agenda, groups like these have begun to receive government support and encouragement.
Many of them comprise former civil servants keen on contributing to the public good. Others include professors and researchers looking to share their knowledge with the next generation. Regardless of their background, nearly all of them see an opportunity to pursue a second career with the experience they’ve built up over the decades.
One such cooperative is a motley group of former law enforcement officers, including a maritime police forensics chief, an investigator specializing in hypnosis, an arson investigator and a marine pollution researcher. They sometimes call themselves the “elderly CSI” after the popular American television franchise.
In December 2012, these law enforcement veterans set up a cooperative called the Hankuk Forensic Science Cooperative. Their mission is to help the wrongfully convicted.
“I’ve seen many cases throughout my career in which people who have been accused of wrongdoing have sought a reinvestigation of their cases through forensic analysis in the United States and Japan,” says Kim Il-pyeong, 61, a former maritime police forensic investigator and head of the cooperative. “We joined forces after retirement to help solve such cases.”
Through government subsidies, the group was able to acquire necessary equipment such as digital microscopes for on-site analysis. People who say they were wrongly accused or have been mired in criminal or civil cases come to them for advice or reinvestigation.
The group covers almost any case that requires forensic analysis. They can help review fire and vehicular accidents, examine documents, use hypnosis and lie detection for questioning, and recreate crime scenes. When someone commissions their help, relevant experts within the cooperative form a team to tackle the case in whatever way they can. The pay is modest, and for people like the disabled, elderly, young families and multicultural families, they work pro bono.
In one case, the group took up the case of two feuding couples. The man looking for help had been convicted of physically assaulting another person’s wife, but he argued that his wife had also been injured with a weapon and he was simply reacting in self-defense. The court, however, believed the other side’s claim that the scar had been caused by a fingernail scratch, not a weapon, and dismissed the argument of self-defense.
Using photographs of the scar and weapon, the cooperative decided to test whether a similar weapon would be able to reproduce the injury. When they used a similar weapon from the same company on a piece of paper, the rip that resulted resembled the scar in the photograph. It did not look like one caused by a fingernail.
They tested the weapon again using a raw chicken, whose skin is said to closely resemble that of a person. The result was the same. Kim believes investigators never conducted a thorough analysis of the scarring in the first place.
In another case, a lawyer representing a woman convicted of murdering her husband with a knife came to the cooperative for help. The defendant argued in court that she had no memory of the attack on her husband and said it was an accident. She was found guilty for murder.
After conducting a forensic analysis, the group discovered that there was no blood where there should have been had the husband’s killing been premeditated. The case is now being appealed at the Supreme Court.
When the group receives a commission, the relevant expert takes up the case based on his turn order. He receives 70 percent of the payment for the case, and the rest goes to the organization as part of its operating costs.
Hong Beom-ki, a cooperative member who was formerly a police forensics analyst, says the costs incurred don’t amount to much more than transportation and lunch, as well as a few color printouts. “The satisfaction is much more rewarding,” he says.
Last year, the cooperative began to give lectures on forensic analysis at Dongguk University’s Graduate School of Police Administration. Though they only cover one course, group members take turns giving lectures based on their fields of expertise. They’ve also put together an exercise lab where the methods they’ve taught can be practiced in real life.
The group also recently began a new project in which they provide jobs for retired police officers. One of them involves cleaning up crime scenes after accounting for all possible evidence at the site. The site is then detoxed to prevent contamination. Group members perform such tasks with retired police officers and then split the pay they receive from local governments or police stations.
What was originally a group of 16 people has now mushroomed to around 60. Members say that their work is meant to uphold the innocence of the wrongly convicted, but they often feel guilt having to correct the mistakes of their juniors. Kim Young-hoon, an instructor at the school, says students are very satisfied with the course because they can receive detailed instructions from skilled veterans in the profession.
“The purpose of the investigation is to ensure no person suffers from something they did not do,” Kim says. “I hope junior investigators know that our goal is not to make their work more difficult but to motivate them to perform better.”
Another cooperative, the Daedeok Science and Technology Cooperative, helps small and medium-sized businesses (SME) develop technology for their enterprise. It has 123 members including local university professors and researchers at Daedeok Innopolis, a research and development park in Daejeon, home to around 1,000 SMEs and government agencies.
They have no special fees or rules about compensation for their services. Start-ups and small businesses are allowed to pay whatever they can for the help. The reason why the group sticks to a pay-as-you-can system is to build a warm community, says the group’s head, Cheon Byeong-sun, 73, a nano-engineering professor at Chungnam National University.
Asia-Tech, a small firm in Jecheon, North Chungcheong, was able to develop technology that recycles damaged train wheels with the group’s help. Train wheels often wear out after running for around 300,000 kilometers (1,864 miles), but the company developed a way to recycle used wheels using a unique heat treatment and welding method. The company is in the final stage of testing before commercializing the technology.
“Originally, we only had mechanical engineers at our company, so we had no idea how to weld or use heat treatment,” says Asia-Tech CEO Lee Young-jin. “But metallurgy and welding experts in the group helped us develop the technology.”
Cheon says the group’s main purpose is to create more jobs for struggling youth by helping SMEs and start-ups grow.
Another cooperative, the Alumni Network of Science and Technology Institutes, Korea, is made up of researchers from government-sponsored institutes across the country.
“Public institutions take up projects given by SMEs and venture firms to help them develop new technology,” says the cooperative’s chairman, Lee Jeong-soon, a former director of the government-sponsored Korea Basic Science Institute. “But their help usually ends there, which is often insufficient to reach the stage where the product can be commercialized.
“Our goal,” he says, “is to support these firms until they can grow into stronger businesses and their products are accepted by the market.”
BY KWON HYUK-JOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]