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Life sentence commuted to 35 years for adoptive mother in toddler murder case

Activists from child abuse prevention organizations lamented the appellate court ruling that commuted a life sentence for an adoptive mother who murdered her toddler daughter to a 35-year prison term, in front of Seoul High Court in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
Activists from child abuse prevention organizations lamented the appellate court ruling that commuted a life sentence for an adoptive mother who murdered her toddler daughter to a 35-year prison term, in front of Seoul High Court in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

An appellate court on Friday reversed a local court’s ruling of life imprisonment for an adoptive mother who murdered her toddler daughter, to a sentence of 35 years in prison, citing lack of proof for “such a heavy sentence.”

The court upheld the lower court’s ruling of a five-year prison sentence for the adoptive father, holding him responsible for child abuse in the highly publicized case.

The Seoul High Court admitted that the mother, surnamed Jang, is guilty of murdering her adopted daughter, but said in its ruling it is “difficult to find an objective proof to justify the ruling of life imprisonment, that would permanently be isolating the defendant from the society,” local media reported.

Jang was indicted in December on charges of fatally abusing her adopted daughter, named Jeong-in, from June to October 2020. The child was found to have suffered severe abdominal injuries and internal bleeding due to Jang’s violence.

In May, Jang was sentenced to life in prison, but she lodged an appeal, saying the penalization was too much.

On Friday, the appellate court found Jang guilty of “willfully” killing her adopted daughter -- same as the lower court -- by physically assaulting the 16-month-old child.

“The child was 79 centimeters in height and weighed 9.5 kilograms and she was already damaged from previous violence,” the court said. “And it is obvious that two times of strong physical assaults in the child’s abdomen would kill her.”

“The victim died eight months after she was adopted, suffering from violence during that time. We cannot even imagine the physical and mental pain she had suffered,” the court said.

The court, however, viewed life imprisonment too harsh a punishment, as Jang, 35, did not “plan” on her murder nor sought to conceal evidence of her actions, it said. The court also took into consideration that Jang had taken her daughter to the hospital on the day she died.

In addition to 35 years in prison, the appellate court ordered Jang to complete 200 hours of a child abuse treatment program and banned her from working at children-related organizations for 10 years.

The prosecutors had demanded that Jang be sentenced to death for killing her daughter, and a separate seven years and six months for her husband for neglecting the abuse.

For the adoptive father, surnamed Ahn, the court approved of the lower court’s ruling of five years in prison.

Reversing the lower court’s ruling, the appellate court found Ahn not guilty of child abuse, and that he was not directly involved in the murder. But the court upheld the prison term against Ahn for not taking action despite being aware of his wife’s abuse.

Ahn was also ordered to undertake 200 hours of a child abuse treatment program, and has been banned from working at children-related organizations for 10 years.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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