Retrial bound to clear name of convicted murderer

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Retrial bound to clear name of convicted murderer

A retrial began in one of Korea’s most twisted murder cases, which will almost certainly exonerate a man unjustly jailed for murdering a 13-year-old girl in 1988.

But the confessed murderer of that girl - and up to 15 others - can’t be tried because the crimes are too old. He’s already serving a life sentence in the Busan Penitentiary for a single rape and murder.

On Thursday, the Suwon District Court held a hearing to set a schedule for the retrial of a 52-year-old man identified by the surname Yoon.

The presiding judge issued an apology to Yoon for his false conviction in October 1989 and the 20 years he served in prison - effectively ruling in his favor.

“Yoon was imprisoned for a long period due to an unfair trial that he was iniquitously subjected to,” said Judge Kim Byeong-chan. “The prosecution has already submitted records that clarify their position that Yoon is innocent, and if the defense agrees to these records, it is very likely that he will be declared innocent.”

This miscarriage of justice occurred around the time of one Korea’s most notorious strings of killings - the grisly rapes and murders of 10 women in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, from 1986 to 1991.

Yoon was the only person charged - and only for the eighth murder. Police never thought he was the serial killer. They accused him of copycatting the serial killings.

The remaining nine killings became Korea’s most mysterious cold cases.

Last September, police used new DNA tests and traced the killings back to Lee Choon-jae, a man serving a life sentence in the Busan Penitentiary for raping and fatally strangling his ex-wife’s sister in 1994 in Cheongju, North Chungcheong. The case took a major turn when Lee confessed to all ten of the murders - including the killing for which Yoon had been convicted.

Yoon, now 52, confessed to the killing, which police at the time said was done to mimic seven preceding murders committed in the area. Yet at his trial and through an interview from jail, Yoon insisted he was innocent and that his confession was forced through police intimidation and torture. He served 20 years in jail and was released in 2009 - still maintaining his innocence.

Lee’s confession, which contained details that closely matched evidence from the crime scene of the eighth murder, lent new credence to Yoon’s claims. The former convict and his lawyers filed for a retrial to prove his innocence once and for all.

According to investigators’ interviews with Lee, the convicted killer testified that he decided to kill the 13-year-old girl in September 1988 after peeping through a hole in her window and finding that she was alone. He was able to kill her silently and escape undetected because he was familiar with her house, which was the former residence of a friend.

Given such testimony from Lee, who remembered minute details such as the length of the victim’s hair and the layout of her room, prosecutors concluded in November that he was the real killer.

Yoon’s lawyers, however, say proving their client’s innocence is insufficient, and that how he was forced to confess must be revealed. A ranking police officer and a prosecutor responsible for Yoon’s case at the time have been accused of a host of illegal practices meant to obtain a false confession, like beating Yoon and depriving him of sleep for over 75 hours.

While police have booked eight people for abuse of power in connection with the investigation, these officials - who have all retired - cannot be prosecuted since the statute of limitations has long expired.

Even Lee, who confessed to killing 16 women in his lifetime and raping many more, cannot be punished in spite of his revelations. The statute of limitations for murder was 15 years until 2015.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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