The Korea Herald


Future grim for cult leader convicted of sex crimes: experts

Leader of religious group unlikely to be successful in reversing court ruling, experts assess

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Dec. 28, 2023 - 15:13

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A picture of Jeong Myeong-seok from the Netflix documentary series, “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” (Netflix) A picture of Jeong Myeong-seok from the Netflix documentary series, “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” (Netflix)

Jeong Myeong-seok, the leader of a controversial religious group, Jesus Morning Star, lodged an appeal on a court ruling last week sentencing him to 23 years behind bars for sexual assault and molestation.

However, the future looks grim for Jeong, as legal experts on Thursday said it is highly unlikely that the 78-year-old will succeed in reversing the Daejeon District Court’s ruling in the appellate court due to the trustworthiness of the victims’ testimony and evidence.

“The court got the facts right through the victims’ testimonies and evidence, all of which are reliable and trustworthy, so the appellate court would likely uphold the initial ruling,” Jeong Woong-seok, a law professor at Seo Kyeong University and chairman of the Korean Society of Criminal Procedure Law, told The Korea Herald.

“Unless it finds a new piece of evidence that could overturn the result, a victory for Jeong will not happen,” the professor noted.

The leader was convicted of routinely raping and sexually assaulting a number of his female followers, including one from Hong Kong, one from Australia and one from South Korea, between February 2018 and September 2021.

Jeong flatly denied that he had sexually assaulted or harassed followers. He also denied calling himself the “reincarnated Jesus Christ” or the “Messiah” and using this as a pretext to assault his followers.

While Jeong is making efforts to dissociate himself from the offenses, 18 women, including minors, have additionally filed charges against the religious leader for sexual assault and molestation. Of them, three cases have been referred to the prosecution.

In addition, a follower named Kim Ji-sun, reported to have been second fiddle to Jeong and a powerful figure in the religious organization, testified during a plea hearing on Sept. 26 that they had remained silent on Jeong’s sexual crimes as they revered him as the Messiah, damaging Jeong’s efforts to defend himself.

“It’s nearly impossible to prove (the convict) not guilty after he was handed a 23-year prison term, even if his followers appear as witnesses to prove (Jeong’s innocence) because, at this point, it’s unlikely that the court would accept them,” Chae Da-eun, an attorney at Law Firm Hanjoong, told The Korea Herald.

“The essence of a sexual assault case, or this case, is the victims’ testimonies and evidence as they build a stronger case against the perpetrator. The victims have provided enough credible details that ultimately led to his heavy sentence,” she added.

Multiple sexual abuse allegations were raised against Jeong and his aides after the release of a Netflix documentary series titled “In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal” in March, which shed light on the religious group and its misconduct, including Jeong’s alleged sexual abuse of numerous female believers.

Previously, Jeong walked free on parole in February 2018 after serving 10 years in prison for molesting four foreign JMS members in their 20s from August 2001 to April 2006.