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[Newsmaker] Patterson sentenced to 20 years in jail for Itaewon murder

A Seoul court on Friday sentenced a U.S. man to 20 years in jail for murdering a South Korean college student nearly two decades ago in the Itaewon murder case.

The Seoul Central District Court found Arthur John Patterson, 37, guilty of stabbing Cho Joong-pil, 22, to death in 1997 at a Burger King outlet in Itaewon, a multicultural district frequented by expats. 

Arthur Patterson (Yonhap)
Arthur Patterson (Yonhap)

The court recognized Edward Lee, 37, as an accomplice for the murder, but did not convict him according to Korea’s double jeopardy rule. The rule prevents a defendant from standing trial over the same charge for a second time, barring appeals, even if new evidence comes to light.

“Lee’s testimonies that he saw Patterson stabbing the victim are more credible,” the judge said in the ruling. “Lee incited Patterson to murder the victim and led the way into the bathroom.”

Patterson said that he would appeal the verdict.

In what many viewed as a botched investigation in 1998, Prosecutors indicted Lee, who was then 17 years old, for murdering Cho. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was later cleared of the charge for lack of evidence.

At the time, Patterson, who was also 17 years old, was indicted on lesser charges, including elimination of evidence and possession of a dangerous weapon. He received an 18-month jail term, but was soon freed in an annual amnesty. As prosecutors failed to renew his travel ban, he returned to the U.S. in 1999.

The victim, Patterson and Lee were the only three people who were present at the crime scene. But neither Patterson nor Lee were legally held accountable for the murder, leaving the case unresolved for almost two decades.

The prosecution opened a fresh investigation into the murder in 2009. This time, prosecutors charged Patterson as the prime suspect of the murder.

The U.S. citizen was arrested in Los Angeles in 2011 and was extradited to Korea on Sept. 23 to face a trial on charges of killing Cho, who was found dead on the restroom floor with several wounds to his neck and chest. Cho died on the way to a hospital.

During the four-month trial, Patterson insisted on his innocence, accusing Lee of killing Cho. Lee, who appeared at the court as a witness this time in the reopened trial, testified that he clearly saw Patterson turn to Cho to stab him.

Earlier in the month, the prosecution sought 20 years in jail for Patterson ― the maximum term for the suspects aged 18 or younger at the time of the murder ― in the final hearing, citing the brutality of the crime and his lack of remorse.

By Ock Hyun-ju (