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Movie triggers debate on justice system

Judges emphasize need to let public know facts in ‘crossbow terror’ case


A courtroom movie tracing the conviction of a professor for shooting a crossbow at a judge has sparked a fresh round of debate on the judiciary.

The newly released film, “Unbowed,” depicts the trial and conviction of Kim Myung-ho, a mathematics professor dismissed from Sungkyunkwan University, who attacked Park Hong-woo, then a Seoul High Court judge, with a crossbow.

The film, which drew more than 1 million viewers in the first eight days of opening, depicts evidence in the case as having been manipulated and deliberately omitted, casting doubt on the final ruling.

Netizens and observers who watched the movie are reproaching the court, calling for the case to be re-opened.

As criticism mounted, a then-associate judge of an earlier trial for the professor’s reinstatement at the university, which led to the “crossbow terror” trial, revealed on Wednesday some of the rationale behind the ruling. In doing so, he risked breaching judicial confidentiality on opinions exchanged between judges before a ruling.

Meanwhile, Chung Young-jin, a senior judge of the Suwon District Court, uploaded a post on the judiciary internal online bulletin Thursday, saying that the court should publicize the facts about the case. He said that the judiciary should also publicize the criminal trial procedures law which allows the public to view or copy trial records for the purpose of research or public interest.

“The court needs to leave it up to citizens to see evidence directly and make their own judgment,” he said.
Moviegoers crowd the box office for “Unbowed,” a film based on the true story of a former college professor’s so-called “crossbow terror” incident, at Coex in southern Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Moviegoers crowd the box office for “Unbowed,” a film based on the true story of a former college professor’s so-called “crossbow terror” incident, at Coex in southern Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

This comes after the Supreme Court earlier expressed concern that the film may mislead the public and distort its perception of the judiciary. The nation’s top court asked lower court judges to put the facts straight when asked by the media.

Kim lost his job in 1996 after finding an error in one of the university’s admission test questions and demanding its correction.

In 2005, the court dismissed his request for reinstatement. Kim appealed but lost, and appealed but lost again in January 2007.

On Jan. 15, 2007, Kim was involved in the so-called “crossbow terror” incident. He was arrested on charges of attempted murder the following day.

The Supreme Court later held a meeting of senior justices, and defined the incident as a grave affront to the rule of law.

Prosecutors, however, indicted Kim not on charges of attempted murder but aggravated assault.

On Oct. 15, 2007, the court sentenced him to four years in prison. In the trial, the court ruled that Kim intentionally fired an arrow at Park. Kim argued that the bolt was fired accidentally during a scuffle with the judge. Kim served his time in prison and was released on Jan. 24, 2011.

The film contends that Kim brought the crossbow to Park’s apartment only to threaten him and that the shooting was an accident. It also implies that Park manipulated a broken bolt and his blood-stained shirt to deceive the judges.

Kim said in an interview that about 98 percent of the film is close to reality, fueling public animosity against the judiciary, which has been under fire from some groups for what they say have been politically biased rulings in high-profile cases.

“The movie rubs many people the right way. They believe that there is no justice in the court. It thrills people that someone finally revealed the dirty laundry of the judiciary,” Yu Ji-na, a movie critic, said.

“The court has disappointed the public in several rulings, especially on liberal politicians or policymakers. The court should study the case once again,” said a group of netizens campaigning to reopen the case.

Judge Lee Jeong-lyeol of Changwon District Court, who was an associate judge in the trial of Kim’s professor reinstatement rulings case, wrote on the court Intranet that the dismissal of the case was based on fair evidence and that Kim tried to throw off the case all the way through.

“The court initially thought Kim was innocent, but he could not present proper answers to many of our questions. He even refused to be cross-examined with his peers, which hurt his credibility. The court therefore revised its stance,” he wrote.

“The court should try to allow more public access to court trials such as an expansion of jury system. The public should try not to mistake fiction for reality,” said Hyun Taek-soo, a sociology professor at Korea University.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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