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Soldier appeals 3-year sentence for S. Korea BB shooting

These plastic BB bullets are on sale at a sidewalk vendor's stand in Itaewon, not far from the spot where three U.S. soldiers are accused of shooting at least one BB gun at passersby on a recent Saturday and then escaping by car.

SEOUL — A U.S. soldier convicted of firing a BB gun at pedestrians, fleeing the scene, then striking a South Korean police officer with his car has appealed his three-year sentence, according to his attorney.

Pvt. Christian Lopez-Morales, 25, was sentenced earlier this month by the Seoul Central District Court for his role in the March 2 incident, which led to a soldier in his backseat being shot by the police officer.

Attorney Jin Hyo Keun said he is optimistic that the Seoul High Court will substantially reduce the sentence. While the lower court followed sentencing guidelines, he said it ignored the soldier’s letters of apology to the police officer, Im Seong-mook, as well as his history of mental problems since serving in Afghanistan.

Lopez-Morales is trying to reach a financial settlement with Im. South Korean courts typically consider such payments favorably during sentencing.

Most importantly, Jin said, the court did not take into account Lopez-Morales’ assertions that he never meant to strike the officer with his car.

Im followed the soldier in a taxi from the Itaewon district to an alley in an east Seoul neighborhood, where Im fired several shots at Lopez-Morales’ car. The soldier reversed several times during the encounter, striking Im in the leg and pinning him against a wall.

Both Im and the taxi’s driver testified that Lopez-Morales deliberately tried to hit the officer. Lopez-Morales claimed he did not know he was being chased by police, was scared and got glass in his eye when his window was broken as a crowd tried to stop his car from fleeing after the shooting.

A date for Lopez-Morales’ appeal has not been set. A second soldier convicted for the incident, Pfc. Wendy Fuentes, 22, has not appealed, according to court documents.

Fuentes, who fired the first plastic pellets that night, was fined the equivalent of $4,600 but was given no jail time.

Both soldiers have also been court-martialed. Lopez-Morales was given an eight-month military sentence, a reduction in rank from staff sergeant to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge. Fuentes was sentenced to a one-month forfeiture of $1,266 and reduced in rank from a specialist.

Lopez-Morales can file a third appeal with the South Korean Supreme Court if he is dissatisfied with the High Court’s decision.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com

chang.yookyong@stripes.com

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