Court upholds Onken verdict
SEOUL — A South Korean court Wednesday upheld the three-year sentence of a U.S. soldier convicted in the drunken-driving death of a young Korean woman on Thanksgiving.
The attorney for Sgt. Jerry Onken, of the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Suwon Air Base, asked a three-judge panel to reduce the sentence, saying Onken was sorry for the incident and should be placed on probation for the sake of his children in the United States.
Prosecutors, who in South Korean court also are allowed to appeal verdicts and sentences, had asked the court to increase Onken’s punishment to five years.
Park Seon-ki, Onken’s civilian attorney, said Wednesday that he would speak with his client about filing another appeal of the sentence.
The incident occurred just after midnight Nov. 28. According to police, Onken drove his car through a red light and hit another vehicle, killing 22-year-old Ki Kyoung-sun. After the crash, Onken and two other soldiers in his car fled the scene, police said. Authorities later located him on base.
During the trial, South Korean police testified Onken was legally drunk six hours after the fatal crash. A blood test taken by police at 6:45 a.m. showed Onken had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06 — above South Korea’s 0.05 legal limit, police said.
Based on those results, prosecutors estimated Onken’s blood alcohol level was about .103 at the time of the crash.
Onken admitted to drinking on the evening of the crash, saying he had three beers and two whiskey cocktails between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. He said he was sightseeing until the 12:10 a.m. crash.
Onken said he was shaken by the accident, returned to his quarters and drank two beers and smoked a cigarette after the accident because he was nervous. Onken and his attorney contested the prosecution’s blood-alcohol-level estimate, and the soldier apologized numerous times in court for the incident.
The case marked the first time a U.S. servicemember was held in South Korean police custody before trial under a revised treaty between the U.S. and South Korean governments.
The other two soldiers faced unspecified administrative actions from their unit, an Army spokesman has said.