He was in prison for 20 years until a serial killer confessed to the crime

SEOUL, South Korea – A man in South Korea who spent 20 years in prison for the murder of a 13-year-old girl was acquitted in a retrial on Thursday after the country’s most notorious serial killer committed the crime last year. known.

The acquitted man, Yoon Sung-yeo, 53, was sentenced to life in prison in 1989 on a charge of murder in relation to the death of the young girl in Hwaseong, a province south of Seoul, the previous year. Mr. Yoon spent two decades behind bars before being released on parole in 2009.

He is said to have lived the rest of his life as a former convict, but for a sensational turn in what was South Korea’s longest unsolved serial murder case. Last year, police announced that a man serving a life sentence for raping and murdering his sister-in-law in 1994 had confessed to the so-called Hwaseong serial killings in which 10 women were brutally murdered. the county from 1986 to 1991.

Noted serial killer, Lee Chun-jae, also admitted killing four others, including the 13-year-old girl. Mr. Yoon immediately demanded a retrial.

Park Jeong-jae, a district court in Suwon, south of Seoul, said in its ruling on Mr. Yoon’s case on Thursday, “It was a wrong verdict based on false investigation.”

“I, as a member of the judiciary, apologize to the accused that the judiciary has failed to fulfill its role as the last bastion for human rights,” he added.

When the verdict was announced, Mr. Yoon’s supporters burst into applause and gave him flowers. Prosecutors decided not to appeal the verdict.

“I hope that no more people will be falsely accused, as I was,” Mr Yoon told reporters on Thursday.

For decades, the Hwaseong murders terrorized South Koreans. The victims between the ages of 7 and 71 were often strangled after rape. Their bodies were found with their mouths filled with their own stockings, bras, or socks. Some bodies were mutilated with umbrellas, forks or razor blades.

“I still don’t know why I did what I did,” said Mr. Lee last month, as he testified at Mr. Yoon’s retrial. ‘I wasn’t thinking or planning. I have committed the crimes like a moth attracted to a flame. “

In total, two million police officers were mobilized over the years to hunt the murderer, and more than 21,000 men were questioned in the case. The murders were also the inspiration for the 2003 blockbuster film “Memories of Murder”.

The cases remained unsolved until last year, when advances in DNA analysis enabled forensic experts to sample some of the evidence gathered from the murder scenes. The samples matched Mr. Lee, and later he began to confess to the murders.

During Mr. Yoon’s retrial, one of the former detectives who investigated his case admitted that Mr. Yoon had been beaten for three days and had not gotten any sleep when he was forced to confess. On Thursday, the court said the case against Mr Yoon was based on illegal detention and torture and “no reliable evidence”.

However, Mr. Lee’s confession was “very credible,” it said.

The National Police Agency issued a statement on Thursday apologizing for “ stigmatizing an innocent young man as a murderer. ”

“We bow our heads deeply to apologize to him and his family,” it read.

Mr. Yoon’s lawyers said the original police investigation had been on the verge of absurdity: Police argued that Mr. Yoon entered the murdered girl’s home by climbing a wall. But when they took him there to recreate the murder scene, Mr. Yoon, who suffered from polio and limping as a child, couldn’t climb the wall.

Mr. Yoon’s argument that he had been tortured to confession was inadmissible during his original trial.

When Mr. Lee appeared as a witness at Mr. Yoon’s retrial in November, he too stated that the police investigation had been sloppy.

Before continuing his killing spree in 1986, he was questioned by police about a rape, but he ran free when officers decided not to prosecute the case, he said. At one point, he said he was wearing the watch of one of his victims when police questioned him as part of their investigation into the Hwaseong murders. He ran loose again.

“I still don’t understand why it took them so long to get hold of me,” said 57-year-old Mr Lee. “I’ve been questioned by detectives several times, but they always asked me about my friends and neighbors, but never seriously about me.”

Police officers said Mr. Lee may have decided to work with them after the DNA analysis, as he was no longer facing further criminal charges. The 15-year statute of limitations for the last of the Hwaseong murders expired in 2006. But his chances of parole have evaporated.

Mr Lee said he would rather stay in prison than be released on parole, citing the case of Cho Doo-Soon, who was released from prison this month after serving 12 years in prison for the rape of an 8-year-old girl. . Months before his release, South Koreans issued death threats against Mr. Cho, forcing police to increase security around his home.

“It’s not like I haven’t thought about what life would be like if I were released on parole,” said Mr. Lee last month. ‘But I’d rather stay in prison. I heard how people reacted to Cho Doo-Soon’s release. I can imagine what it would be like if they heard me coming out. “