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Paju murders suspect might get life sentence

Potential gravity of Lee Ki-young's crime sparks debate over release of suspects' police photograph

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : Jan. 4, 2023 - 15:36

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This photo shows Lee Ki-young (second from left) being sent to prosecution from Ilsan Dongbu Police Station, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap) This photo shows Lee Ki-young (second from left) being sent to prosecution from Ilsan Dongbu Police Station, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Police on Wednesday sent the Paju, Gyeonggi Province murder case of 31-year-old Lee Ki-young to prosecution, seeking charges against Lee including robbery-homicide, punishable by life sentence or death.

Under the Criminal Act, a murder by a robber is punishable by life sentence or death. Robbery-homicide has a greater punishment than homicide, which is punishable by at least seven years in prison, excluding ones under extenuating circumstances.

The latest update to the charges brought against Lee include homicide, concealment of bodies, theft, fraud and violation of Specialized Credit Finance Business Act.

Police said the murder of the taxi driver was intentional, as Lee was not capable of paying settlement money to the driver for a minor collision with him when Lee was driving under the influence on Dec. 20 in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.

Police believe the suspect asked the victim to come to his house, convincing the driver he could pay him. Lee, however, beat the 60-year-old to death with a blunt object and stole his credit cards afterwards.

Lee, who has no income source reportedly, purchased goods and took out a loan using the stolen credit card.

Lee is also suspected of hiding the taxi driver’s body inside a closet at his home, until the body was found by his most recent girlfriend on Dec. 25. Lee was soon caught by police on the same day.

The police probe later revealed Lee’s house was owned by an ex-girlfriend, whom he admitted to killing in August as well as stealing her credit card. Lee told police earlier this week he buried his ex-girlfriend's body, recanting a statement a week prior that he had dumped the body in a creek.

The stolen credit cards’ value was a combined 70 million won ($54,900), according to police.

Police have been conducting a search for the ex-girlfriend's body and an investigation into additional murders as DNA evidence of three women and a man were found in Lee's home. Law enforcement authorities have reached out to some 380 people who have been in contact with Lee this past year.

Lee, on the other hand, denied suspicions of any additional murders, saying there are no other victims than the taxi driver and ex-girlfriend.

A search operation is underway at Gongneungcheon creek in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap) A search operation is underway at Gongneungcheon creek in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The potential gravity of Lee's crime is reigniting the long-standing debate over need to release the suspect's personal identity for public safety measures.

While uncommon in Korea, police earlier had already revealed Lee’s name, age and identification card photo. But online media opinions said Lee looked different in real life than in his photo.

Lee’s first appearance in public after the arrest on Wednesday added fuel to the debate as he concealed his face by using a mask and his hood.

Authoritative interpretations in 2019 by the Justice Ministry and Interior Ministry indicated that the release of a suspect's police photograph requires permission of the suspect. Only one suspect so far agreed to release their police photograph in December 2021. Lee refused to do so.

The interpretation also deemed the act of covering the face with a mask or hair as permissible.

This debate triggered Rep. Song Eon-seog of the ruling People Power Party on Tuesday to propose a revision bill forcing the release of a criminal suspect's photo taken within 30 days of the scheduled release date. The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Ahn Gyu-back also proposed a revision, on the same day, to limit the scope of the releasable photo to those that "could be recognized by the public."

Lee, who has been detained in Ilsan Dongbu Police Station since last Christmas, told reporters upon exiting the police station Wednesday morning he "feels sorry for the killings" when asked whether he had anything to tell the bereaved family.

Lee has an existing criminal record, which include a DUI and twice imprisonment, the police said.