South Korean man acquitted of teenage Hwaseong’s murder after 20 years in prison for her murder

Yoon Seong-yeo – now in her 50s – was found not guilty Thursday after a retrial in the northwestern city of Suwon over the 1988 rape and murder of a 13-year-old in her bedroom in Hwaseong, then a rural, undeveloped area in the near the capital Seoul.

The teenager was one of 10 deaths in the area between 1986 and 1991 in a wave of high-profile deaths known as the Hwaseong murders. Yoon was the only person ever convicted in connection with the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison and ended up spending 20 years behind bars for the rape and murder of the 13-year-old.

In a verdict released Thursday, Judge Park Jeong-je found that police had used torture, including sleep deprivation, and illegal detention to obtain Yoon’s confession of the 1988 murder.

“As a member of the judiciary, I apologize to the accused, who has suffered great physical and mental pain, for failing to function properly as the last bastion of human rights,” he said. We sincerely hope that the retrial of this case will be somewhat comforting and will help restore the accused’s honor. “

The result means that Yoon’s name is finally being erased – more than 30 years after the murder took place. It’s also a rare outcome in South Korea, where only a small fraction of recall requests are accepted, according to experts.

“I am relieved that the final verdict found me innocent,” Yoon said after the verdict. “I can lower this heavy burden that I have been carrying for 30 years and rest for a while.”

Yoon has been claiming his innocence for years, but only got a retrial after police broke the case last year.

In September, police announced that new DNA evidence linked at least some of the Hwaseong murders to Lee Chun-jae, who has been in prison since 1994 for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. The following month, Lee confessed to all 10 murders and four more about which police had not provided details.

Forced confession

During the months-long retrial, Yoon’s lawyers argued that their client – a 22-year-old, unskilled repairman who was limping from childhood polio when he was arrested – was forced to confess by police.

Yoon told CNN that he was handcuffed in a room for three days, was not allowed to sleep, and barely ate during interrogation.

30 years ago, he was wrongly convicted of murder.  Now the police have apologized for forcing him to make a false confession
In July, the head of the Gyeonggi Nambu Provicial Police Agency, Bae Yong-ju, admitted that during the initial investigation in 1989, the police attacked Yoon and forced him to make a false confession.

“We bow and apologize to all victims of Lee Chun-jae’s crimes, families of victims and victims of police investigations, including Yoon,” said Bae, noting that others were victims of “police malpractice” during the first Hwaseong investigation.

According to Lee Soo-jung, a professor of forensic psychology at Kyonggi University, it was common in the 1980s for suspected criminals in South Korea to be kept awake for a long time to try and get a confession. Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture.

In an interview with CNN in November, Kim Chang-yong, commissioner of the Korean National Police Agency, said last year’s police investigation revealed that police had used illegal detention and improper investigation techniques. He said the decision to reveal past misconduct showed that the police were determined not to make the same mistakes.

“It was an embarrassing illegal investigation,” he said. “I believe it should never happen again and that is why we need checks and balances. The police are working hard not to repeat mistakes from the past.”

Cold case solved

For decades, the Hwaseong murders – which were revisited in “Memories of Murder,” a 2003 film by “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho – remained unsolved. Lee’s confession may have helped to somewhat close the victims’ families.

Kim said police profilers interviewed Lee 52 times for nearly seven months before admitting he committed all the crimes. “He doesn’t confess easily,” said Kim.

In a remarkable November session, during the month-long retrial, Lee took the stand to confess to the murders for Yoon. He said he did not know why he had not been a suspect during the initial investigation, saying that at the time of the murders, he had even been questioned by police when he was carrying a watch belonging to one of the victims.

“I didn’t think the crimes were going to be buried forever,” said Lee. I came and testified and described the crimes in the hope that (the victims and their families) would find some comfort when the truth is revealed. I will live my life with repentance. ‘

What happens now

Yoon can now claim damages for the twenty years he falsely held. One of Yoon’s attorneys, Park Joon-young, told CNN earlier this year that Yoon could likely expect more than $ 1 million in damages.

Yoon has previously told CNN that no amount can compensate him for the years he spent in prison and the impact on his reputation and family.

Police plan to release a white paper on the Hwaseong case and the failure of the police during the initial investigation. Kim said it is “impossible” to imagine such shortcomings happening now.

Justice is unlikely to come to the families of the Hwaseong victims.

Although Lee confessed to the murders, he cannot be prosecuted for the Hwaseong cases because the statute of limitations for those murders has passed.