SEOUL — An American suspect in a highly publicized 1997 killing has been indicted for murder as South Korean prosecutors continue efforts to stem public outcry that the defendants in the case received special treatment.
Arthur Patterson, who was indicted this week according to prosecutors, sits in a California jail as South Korean officials continue to work on his extradition to face charges stemming from the slaying of a 23-year-old Korean university student in the restroom of a Burger King in Itaewon, an entertainment district near U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan.
Interest in the case, and public pressure related to its prosecution, was renewed in 2009 following the release of a popular movie in South Korea about it called, “The Case of the Itaewon Homicide.”
Police initially charged two 18-year-old Americans in the murder of Cho Joong-pil, who died after being stabbed repeatedly, according to police.
Eddie Lee, a Korean-American who had no connections to U.S. Forces Korea, was eventually sentenced to life in prison for the attack. His sentence was later reduced to 20 years and he was ultimately acquitted for lack of evidence after he had served 18 months.
Patterson, a dependent of a USFK contract worker at the time of the incident, was charged with possessing a deadly weapon and destroying evidence. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released in early 1998 as part of the annual Aug. 15 Liberation Day amnesty granted by the South Korean government to approximately 2,000 convicts.
At the time of his release, prosecutors promised to pursue harsher charges against Patterson, but he was mistakenly allowed to leave the country. In 2006, a Seoul court ordered the South Korean government to pay the victim’s family the equivalent of $34,000 for mistakes made in handling the case.
South Korean prosecutors said this week’s indictment — and the resulting arrest warrant delivered Thursday to the U.S. Justice Department — will stop the clock on the statute of limitations in the case, which was due to run out next year. It also should speed up Patterson’s extradition case.
Prosecutors said physical evidence linking Patterson to the slaying was used to secure the indictment, but they declined to elaborate.