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Prosecutors indict Itaewon murder suspect

Experts say American’s departure extends statute of limitations in 1997 case


Seoul prosecutors indicted Thursday the now sole suspect of an infamous 1997 murder in Seoul.

The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office indicted Arthur Patterson after learning that he had been arrested and placed under trial in October at a California district court on suspicion of murder in the 14-year-old case.

On April 3, 1997, 23-year-old Hongik University student Cho Choong-pil was found brutally murdered in the first-floor bathroom of a fast food restaurant in Itaewon. Cho was stabbed multiple times around the neck and bled to death at the scene.

The police’s two suspects were then 18-year-old Patterson, son of a U.S. government contractor, and then 18-year-old Edward Lee. Both said they had witnessed the murder, but accused the other of committing the act.

The prosecution indicted Lee on charges of murder and Patterson for possession of a deadly weapon. In October 1997, the first trial court sentenced Lee to life in prison and Patterson to 18 months in jail.

In January 1998, the second trial reduced Lee’s life sentence to 20 years and Patterson’s term to one year.

However, in April 1998, the Supreme Court overturned Lee’s conviction citing a lack of evidence. In September 1999 it confirmed this ruling, dismissing the prosecutors’ appeal.

Prosecutors then resumed their investigations but Patterson, who was pardoned on Aug. 15, 1998 while serving his sentence following the second trial, had already departed to the United States as authorities failed to extend his travel ban. He returned to California the day his travel ban expired.

A film about the murder, released in 2009, sparked public outcry that led the prosecution to resume its investigation. In 2009, more than a decade after the murder took place, the Ministry of Justice requested that the U.S. extradite Patterson. Cho’s bereaved family also filed suit against Patterson.

Later, the court ordered the government to pay 34 million won in compensation to Cho’s family, who claimed they forfeited a chance to discover the truth about the murder.

Legal experts say that although the 15-year statute of limitations is about to expire, Patterson’s departure from the country nullified this statute.

“To ensure swift deportation we will send evidence to the U.S. the Justice Department collected through supplemental investigations,” said a prosecution official familiar with the case.

The prosecutor added that they pledge to go through all the appropriate legal procedures.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldcorp.com)
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