Morgue officer appeals sentence
January 18, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The top morgue officer here is appealing a six-month prison sentence for a pollution charge amid a continuing jurisdictional quarrel between the U.S. military and the South Korean government.
The appeal was filed Thursday, said Kim Jong-pyo, defense attorney for Albert McFarland.
McFarland, 57, was charged with violating a water quality law by ordering the dumping of an embalming fluid solution down the base morgue’s drain in February 2000.
McFarland didn’t attend the Jan. 9 sentencing in Seoul court or other hearings related to his case, so South Korean authorities tried him in absentia.
U.S. Forces Korea has maintained that under the status of forces agreement, they had jurisdiction to punish McFarland because he was on duty when the offense occurred. But Kim said McFarland wants to appeal the sentence to find a solution even though USFK doesn’t recognize the sentence as valid. McFarland is concerned about aggravating public opinion, Kim said.
McFarland received an administrative punishment, but under federal privacy rules, the details cannot be released, USFK officials said.
“[McFarland] believes that South Korea doesn’t have jurisdiction over the case,” Kim said. “It’s not that he disrespects the South Korean justice system or tried to be intentionally uncooperative.”
McFarland ordered two morgue employees to dump about 192 bottles containing 16 ounces each of formula containing formaldehyde. One of the employees notified a local environmental group, and the case received widespread media attention.
The U.S. military was accused of disrespecting the environment and subsequently changed procedures for handling the chemical. A joint South Korean-U.S. environmental study of the dumping showed no danger to humans or long-lasting damage to the environment.
However, environmental groups disputed the claim, saying the liquid fouled the Han River, the main source of drinking water for Seoul’s 11 million people.
Prosecutors recommended a $4,300 fine for McFarland in March 2001. While McFarland paid the fine, a Seoul judge rejected it and sent the case to criminal trial.
Prosecutors recommended the same fine Dec. 19, but Judge Kim Chae-hwan said McFarland had shown no remorse and ignored court proceedings, handing down the six-month sentence Jan. 9.
McFarland declined to talk about the case Friday.