[News Focus] Fallen Park shows little emotion in court

By Bak Se-hwan
  • Published : Jun 19, 2017 - 15:55
  • Updated : Jun 20, 2017 - 11:21
A barrage of camera flashes greet Park Geun-hye as she steps out of the back of a detention center escort van. Wearing her inmate number, 503, on her left chest and handcuffs, the former president is escorted by two prison guards into the courthouse in southern Seoul.

Inside the courtroom, Park quietly walks toward the dock and sits beside her attorney. As she does so, some people in the audience stand up in an apparent show of respect, despite security guards’ gestures not to.

This much-repeated scene no longer creates a media frenzy, as the former president’s trial enters its fifth week. But many citizens still apply for the roughly 60 audience seats that are distributed to applicants by lottery. Many of them are curious to see Park, once a symbol of conservative power, in the flesh.

Park Geun-hye is escorted into the Seoul Southern District Court for a hearing Monday. (Yonhap)

In court, Park’s demeanor is aloof, at times distracted, and emotionless. She remains silent and rarely reacts to whatever is being said about her, sparking public curiosity about her defense strategy and mental state. 

During the third hearing that took place on May 30, Park fell asleep near the end of the session that lasted almost 12 hours. She looked tired  and spiritless throughout the day.

At that time, witness questioning was underway on Park’s role in the alleged money-for-favors deal with Samsung Group. The alleged bribery scheme is Park’s most damning allegation among the 18 criminal charges raised against her by the prosecution. If convicted, she could get life imprisonment.

It was only at the end of the hearing that Park finally uttered a few words. Asked by the judge whether she wanted to question the witness by herself, Park replied, “No I don’t.”

In another court hearing earlier this month, Park was seen repeatedly drawing on scraps of paper with a pencil -- and erasing them.

Park, who sat in the dock, began to draw “unrecognizable” subjects on pieces of paper during the proceeding, as reported by local media outlets. She then rubbed the sketches out with an eraser and brushed off the shavings.

This continued for around 20 minutes, observers said.

Park Geun-hye is escorted into the Seoul Southern District Court for a hearing Monday. (Yonhap)

“Park’s behavior apparently indicates that she suffered from a loss of concentration in a series of hearings,” Lee Soo-jung, a criminal psychology professor at Kyonggi University, told The Korea Herald.

“Another possibility is she failed to -- or chose not to -- see the gravity of the situation, with little concern about the outcome of the criminal trial. In that case, she might have ruled out any possibility of being convicted of her charges,” Lee added.

Upon indictment, Park pleaded not guilty to the 18 charges, but prosecutors believe she colluded with her longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure companies, including Samsung, to donate money to foundations she established.

Most recently, Park burst out laughing when her defense attorney Yoo Young-ha exchanged fierce words with Yoo Jin-ryong, a former Culture Minister under the Park administration who was put on the witness stand last week.

The former cabinet minister is one of a few who exposed a blacklist of thousands of artists who were deemed unfriendly to Park and were excluded from government support programs.

“She clearly has no clue what’s going on around her.” said Kim Tae-hyung, psychologist and author of “Psychology in Choosing a President.”

“Apart from a loss of concentration during hearings, Park seems to be putting herself in third-party position and take no role in the court, leaving everything to her attorneys. That’s a common example seen among people who are psychologically traumatized,” Kim added.

Starting from last week, the Seoul Central District Court began to increase its examination of the bribery allegations involving Samsung, SK and Lotte Group, holding four hearings per week.

“Four days a week of hearings is too much of a burden for the accused, considering her physical condition,” said Park’s attorney Lee Sang-chul, describing Park as “an old, weak woman.”

“She has to live a sedentary lifestyle at a detention center, where she suffers aches in her legs and back,” Lee said.

The court dismissed the claim, saying a tight schedule is “inevitable” since the case involves “a great volume of witness records and a number of witnesses to question.” Park faces a total of 18 charges, with related court documents running to some 120,000 pages.

Critics saw Park's complaint as a “tactic” to delay the court’s decision after the expiration of her detention period.

“The defendant’s health condition is not an issue to be taken into account seriously by the justice when scheduling proceedings,” said Nam Kyoung-kook, a law professor at the University of Seoul Law School.

“Unless in a serious health condition acknowledged in the form of doctor’s note, Park should not delay the proceedings,” Nam added.

Park’s verdict is expected to come mid-October. Park could get life imprisonment if convicted.

By Bak Se-hwan (