[News Focus] Teen murderer may be faking mental illness

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 17, 2017 - 17:54
  • Updated : Jul 17, 2017 - 17:54
A teen suspect on trial for the murder of an 8-year-old girl in Incheon in March may be feigning mental illness in order to receive a lenient punishment, said a psychologist who interviewed the suspect to evaluate her mental condition.

Professor Kim Tae-kyung of Woosuk University said the suspect, a 17-year-old high school dropout identified only by her surname Kim, seemed “quite different” from mentally ill people he has known and interviewed throughout his career. The professor, as an adviser to the Forensic Science Investigation Department of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, interviewed the suspect in April ahead of her trial.

“She was observant of others’ reactions and careful about how to respond to questions during the interview. She tried to justify her crime with mental disorders she claimed she has,” Professor Kim said in a telephone interview with The Korea Herald on Sunday.

“That’s really not the way a person with mental disorders is expected to behave or talk.”

During the prosecutorial investigation, the suspect confessed to luring, strangling and dismembering the victim in a quiet residential neighborhood of Yeonsu in Incheon on March 29. She then handed over part of the victim’s remains to an accomplice, aged 18, who she had known through Twitter. They spoke over the phone for more than two hours the night prior to the murder. The accomplice has been nabbed and is also standing trial.

It was revealed during a court hearing that Kim messaged Park on the day of the killing, saying “(I am) going on the hunt.”

“Returned home. The situation was good,” Kim said later in another text message.

Her trial has drawn a lot of attention for its brutality as well as for the suspects’ age. In South Korea, the harshest punishment that can be handed down to a legal minor, under the age 19, is 15 years of imprisonment, regardless of the offense. He or she becomes eligible for parole after serving five years.

Apparently aware of this, the suspect’s defense at court has been mainly about her mental state.

The attorney claimed she suffers a number of psychological disorders, including schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome, and that the killing was a result of her mental condition.

The professor who interviewed the suspect, however, countered the claim, saying it is highly unlikely.

“People with schizophrenia, for example, may hear and see things that aren’t really there. They also tend to believe others are plotting to harm them and become extremely agitated. The suspect said she had some sort of audible or visual hallucinations but failed to elaborate on what they were,” the expert explained.

“Kim’s behavior was consistent in a sense that she was self-centered and indifferent toward the victim and the victim’s family. She showed signs of remorse for the first time when she realized she has to serve some time in prison if convicted.”

At a court hearing last week, inmates from a detention facility who shared a cell with the suspect also made testimonies that could work against her claim.

“(The defendant) studied Asperger’s syndrome books that her parents gave to her,” one of the inmates revealed. “Her mood brightened after she learnt that her jail term could be reduced if she is diagnosed with a mental disease,” another testified.

Legal experts said Monday that the defendant could receive up to 20 years in jail, if convicted, but the term would be cut by half, if the court acknowledges that Kim was mentally unstable when she killed the victim.

As for the accomplice, who will turn 19 in December, there are more complex legal issues to determine the punishment she may receive, pundits said. Currently, the teenager is charged with being an accessory to murder, but prosecutors may change this to a more serious charge of instigating Kim to kill the victim. If convicted of instigation of murder, the 18-year-old accomplice could get a harsher punishment than the killer.

The final hearing of Kim’s trial is set for Aug. 9, while that of the alleged accomplice is to follow the week after.

By Bak Se-hwan (