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Autopsy on Sewol owner’s body inconclusive

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Published : 2014-07-25 18:39
Updated : 2014-07-25 22:17

A state agency-led autopsy on the body of the fugitive Yoo Byung-eun to reveal the cause of his death eventually ended in a failure, seemingly due to the severe decomposition of the corpse.

The National Forensic Service said Friday that it had failed to determine the cause of death of Yoo, the owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, who was 73, though it has conducted a postmortem on the body for three days since last Tuesday.

National Forensic Service Director General Seo Joong-seok announces the result of the autopsy on the body of Yoo Byung-eun in Seoul on Friday. Yonhap

At a news briefing at the agency’s Seoul unit, NFS chief Seo Joong-seok stressed that it was unable to determine the cause of death due to the body’s state of heavy decay. He said the agency only confirmed that the corpse, which was found on June 12 by a farmer, was that of the irregularity-ridden Yoo.

Concerning the liquor bottles in a bag found near Yoo’s body, no poisonous contents were discovered, said forensic officials.

While the agency said Yoo’s DNA was found on the empty bottles of soju and squalene (shark liver oil), it downplayed the possibility that he had been poisoned.

The NFS said that no toxic elements or alcohol were discovered in Yoo’s liver, lungs or muscles.

Though the agency issued the possibility that Yoo died from hypothermia, it added that this was just one of several possible scenarios.

Officials, in turn, continued to emphasize the corpse’s state of heavy decomposition throughout their one-hour televised briefing.

“(Generally), there are several methods for uncovering the cause of death for decomposed corpses. But for Yoo’s case, there was no clue to finding the cause as too many bodily tissues had been lost,” said forensic medicine researcher Lee Han-young, who participated in the autopsy on the Sewol owner.

He also said it does not seem that Yoo was killed through a physical assault. Lee, however, said it is hard to determine whether his death was due to suffocation or physical violence, reiterating that few soft tissues remained.

The NFS estimated the height of the dead body at about 1.59 meters.

On Tuesday, when the forensic agency initially received the body from a provincial hospital, the NFS said its officials clarified that they had found “no trace of murder.”

Some criminal profilers dismissed the possibility that the runaway committed suicide, while others raised the scenario that Yoo died from hypothermia.

Other critics have not ruled out the possibility that Yoo’s aides offered him poisoned water or other drinks.

Though the corpse was delivered to a hospital in Suncheon, Jeolla Province, right after a farmer reported it to police on June 12, a lock of hair and some bone fragments from the remains were found to have been left in the field for more than a month, during which time police allegedly failed to identify the body due to the advanced state of decay.

The police confirmed on July 22 ― about 40 days after the farmer’s notification ― that the body is that of Yoo Byung-eun.

By Kim Yon-se

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