DAEGU, South Korea — Two American teens accused of stabbing a Waegwon taxi driver celebrated Independence Day by walking out of a Daegu courtroom free Wednesday.

Marcus Banks, 18, who was convicted of the March 20 stabbing of taxi driver Park Sang-hui during a dispute over an unpaid taxi fare, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, but the sentence was suspended for three years. His 16-year-old accomplice was sentenced on the same charges to one year and nine months in prison, but his sentence was suspended for two years.

Judge Yoon Jong-gu said he based his decision on the seriousness of the crime, the defendants’ ages and penalties for similar crimes in South Korea. The fact that both teens’ families paid the victim financial settlements — a common practice in South Korea — also played a factor, Yoon said.

The 16-year-old’s father, an Army major, paid the taxi driver four million won (about $4,400), Yoon said. Banks’ mother, Staff Sgt. Sally Johnson, paid Park 500,000 won (about $550) and had offered an additional 2.5 million won (about $2,700), Yoon said. Park had rejected the offer, but Yoon said the court will keep the 2.5 million won to help pay Park’s medical bills.

According to testimony, the teens took a taxi to a train station after a night of drinking in Waegwon-area clubs. Realizing they had no money to pay the fare, they ran away from Park. The driver later tracked them down on a scooter and cornered them in an alley demanding payment.

Banks has told the court they thought they were being robbed and that he brandished a knife in self-defense. He maintained that he didn’t stab the driver.

Park blasted the judge’s decision outside the courtroom after the case. “I was dumbfounded, confused and unable to believe my ears. I expected [the younger defendant’s] sentence to be suspended, but how can Banks walk away?”

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