The Korea Herald


Court upholds life sentence for Sillim Station stabber

Cho found to have submitted restitution, 5th letter of apology to court

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : June 14, 2024 - 17:31

    • Link copied

Cho Seon, 34, is transferred to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office from Seoul Gwanak Police Station on July 28, 2023. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Cho Seon, 34, is transferred to the Seoul Central District Prosecutor's Office from Seoul Gwanak Police Station on July 28, 2023. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

A South Korean appellate court on Friday upheld the life imprisonment of 34-year-old Cho Seon, who was convicted for a fatal stabbing rampage near Seoul’s densely populated Sillim Station that occurred in July 2023. The Seoul High Court once again dismissed the prosecution's demand for the death penalty for Cho.

“The incident which occurred in broad daylight near Sillim Station caused great shock to the public,” the Seoul High Court said in its ruling.

“The lack of clear motive (behind Cho’s crimes) caused great uneasiness to the public and their fear was exacerbated through the occurrence of several copycat crimes.”

Cho was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 31, to which he filed an appeal saying that the sentence was too cruel.

Cho was indicted last July for stabbing a 22-year-old male stranger to death and injuring three other men in the attack. Cho had never met any of the victims beforehand and initially claimed that a sense of inferiority made him want to hurt people who looked happy.

However, he later took back his statement, claiming that mental and physical disorders were behind his crimes.

Another fatal stabbing rampage followed in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, two weeks later, which left two dead and 12 injured. That also led to a flurry of online threats of similar crimes.

Regarding prosecutors' demand for the death penalty, the court noted that Cho had made efforts to reach a settlement with the victims and their families.

“In light of these circumstances, it is difficult to say that there are special reasons behind justifying the death penalty,” added the Seoul High Court. “To make sure Cho reflects on his misdeeds by being isolated from society forever, the court decided to sentence Cho with the heaviest punishment following the death penalty.”

Although the death penalty technically remains on the books in South Korea, no state execution has been carried out in more than 25 years.

Cho also submitted a letter of apology to the court on Tuesday, making that his fifth letter of apology since his appeal began. In his letter, Cho wrote: “Please reduce the sentence, even a little. Please help me by reducing my sentence,” prosecutors said.

According to local broadcaster Channel A, Cho also submitted restitution to the court on Monday, four days ahead of the appeal hearing.

Restitution is a legal process in which a criminal compensates the victim of a crime to aid in his or her recovery. It serves as a means for the perpetrator to demonstrate to the court attempts to make amends and remorse for one's actions.

With Cho’s restitution submitted just days before the appeal, speculation has arisen that it was only submitted to reduce Cho’s sentence rather than to help in rehabilitation.

In the past, there have been several cases in South Korea where a perpetrator’s sentence was reduced after they had submitted restitution before a trial -- even though the victim had not consented to receive the restitution and wanted punishment for the perpetrator instead.

Additionally, the system has also been previously misused, with some perpetrators reclaiming their restitution after receiving their prison sentence, as they can still retrieve the money at any time.

On May 16, the Ministry of Justice announced plans to submit amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act that would require the court to hear from the victims when restitution is submitted and restrict perpetrators from reclaiming the restitution.

The ministry will submit its amendments to the National Assembly toward the end of this month after collecting further suggestions and comments on their amendments until June 25.