Maj. Hart’s murder trial to begin in May
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The murder trial of Maj. Richard K. Hart, accused of killing his wife and dumping her naked body from a bridge outside Seoul, is scheduled to begin May 17, a military judge announced Friday at his arraignment.
At the defense attorneys’ request, Col. Edward O’Brien, the 6th Judicial Circuit judge, deferred until March 31 a hearing on how Hart would plead to the charges of murder without premeditation, obstruction of justice, assault and willfully disobeying a superior officer. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a charge of murder can be brought with specifications that the act was premeditated or not premeditated.
Hart will announce March 31 whether he wants a bench trial or jury trial. Jury selection would begin May 17 if Hart chooses that forum, O’Brien said.
Friday’s hearing lasted less than an hour and was marked by procedural and scheduling issues. In contrast to Hart’s mid-December Article 32, all parties involved wore dress uniforms instead of utilities. Hart’s shackles — wrist and leg irons, and a restraining belts, which were left on during previous court sessions — were removed prior to Friday’s hearing.
Hart’s defense team was expanded, with Maj. Joseph Masterson joining Capt. James Culp and Capt. Mary Leavitt, the lead defense attorney.
Prosecutors originally wanted Hart to face premeditated murder charges, saying he strangled his wife, Patricia Ann Hart, 53, in his Yongsan apartment. But pathologist testimony during the Article 32 hearing showed blunt force trauma as the most likely cause of death.
Testimony by family members painted a volatile relationship between Hart and his wife, marked by frequent physical and emotional confrontations. Defense attorneys argued Patricia Hart’s death was accidental and the result of a spat gone bad.
South Korean police arrested Hart around 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, after a highway patrol observed him dumping something from the Yongjong Bridge near Inchon International Airport.
He was handed over to U.S. military officials later that day and has been kept at the Camp Humphreys Confinement Facility since.