Brutal crimes shake nation

2010-03-30 12:52

From serial murders to child rapes, felonious crimes sent shock waves throughout the nation in 2009, exposing vulnerability of its public security system and arousing calls for tougher punishment of criminals.
In one of the most gruesome homicide cases seen in years, a 39-year-old man was found to have killed 10 women over two years including his ex-wife and mother-in-law.
Kang Ho-soon was arrested in January for kidnapping and killing a female university student who went missing last December. During the investigation, he confessed to his other killings, which began in September 2006. He was suspected of two more murders, but the victims were not identified.
He was sentenced to death by the Seoul High Court in July, becoming the 16th convict on the death row.
Citizens recoiled in horror on the news of copycat crimes.
A 50-year-old man was arrested in May on suspicion of serial murders. The man dubbed by the media as "the second Kang Ho-soon" hanged himself in the detention house during investigation.
In August, three men in their 20s kidnapped, raped and robbed a woman in the affluent Gangnam area in Seoul. They threatened to kill her, saying they worshiped Kang.
A series of cruel sexual assaults sent jitters across the nation in September, including a 57-year-old man`s rape of an 8-year-old girl.
The attack by Cho Doo-soon disabled the victim for life.
Cho had a sexual offense record but was not kept away from children.
The Supreme Court handed down a 12-year jail term.
The decision unleashed a wave of anger, with people criticizing that it was too light a punishment for such a crime.
The nation was stunned again when another child molester made headlines in September.
The 31-year-old man, whose surname is Yoon, raped and permanently disabled an 8-year-old girl in Suwon.
The court sentenced the "Suwon Cho Doo-soon" to 20 years in prison.
The crimes eroded sense of safety and stirred demands for tightened criminal laws.
A revised youth protection law will come into effect in January, allowing people to check personal information of sex criminals. The name, age, address, photo and criminal records will be available on a website run by the Health Ministry, said officials.
Their genetic information will also be kept in a database for investigation purposes.
The DNA of perpetrators of 12 major crimes, including murder and sex crimes, will be kept under prosecutorial supervision, according to a DNA information bill passed by the Cabinet meeting in October.
The bill allows investigators to collect the genetic information of suspects and convicts of corresponding crimes.
The DNA law was brought into public forum following Kang Ho-soon`s serial murders and received further attention upon Cho`s sexual abuse case.
Upon the Supreme Court ruling, many blamed the court for being too lenient on the rapist, who at the time was intoxicated, but it soon became social consensus that the criminal law itself needed to be reinforced.
The Justice Ministry announced last month a revision bill of the law, raising the maximum jail term for pedophiles up to 30 years. The bill is also to hold the statute of limitations until victims reach the age of 20. Defenses using inebriation as an excuse will be greatly limited.
The government and the ruling Grand National Party further suggested this month that jail term limits for those who sexually abuse children be increased to up to 50 years.
The court also joined efforts by starting to hand down severe punishments to sexual child abusers.
A 34-year-old man was sentenced to a jail term of 3 1/2 years for stabbing and robbing a female passenger. He was under the influence of alcohol but the court refused to commute his sentence.
The court also more broadly acknowledged the testimony from child victims.
Sex crimes against children in Korea have been on a steady rise, jumping from 548 cases in 2002 to 1,172 cases last year, according to ministry data.
Some have also come up with a new paradigm for regulating sex offenders.
The parliamentary legislation and judiciary committee last month held an open hearing on the introduction of chemical castration, focusing on a bill proposed last year by lawmakers including Rep. Park Min-shik of the ruling Grand National Party.
The bill mainly involves administering drugs to repeat sex crime offenders or pedophiles aged 25 or older to weaken their sexual impulses for a certain period of time.
Though opposing opinions existed, Park claimed that sexual abuse against children reached such a high level that a new solution, chemical castration, is required.
One of the major issues which serial murderer Kang sparked was whether personal information of felons should be disclosed.
During the police investigation, local media published his photo, raising debates about the legitimacy of opening such personal information.
The Cabinet passed later a revision the bill on the felon law which would allow authorities to disclose personal information including the photo, name and age of suspects of murder, rape and other grave crimes.
Until then, no law explicitly regulated such disclosures.
The killer also brought the issue of capital punishment into open forum.
Though he joined death row, no prisoners have been executed in Korea since December 1997, Amnesty International has thus classified the country as "abolitionist in practice."
However, public sentiment was aroused by a series of felonious crimes, including Kang`s case, and many citizens have come to call for the nominal capital punishment system to be brought back to life.
The dispute took a new twist last month when Jeong Nam-gyu, committed suicide in his cell, allegedly from the mental pressure of the death sentence.
The Justice Ministry has no plans of abolishing the death sentence, according to officials

By Bae Hyun-jung
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