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SEOUL — A Seoul court has ordered that the South Korean government pay about $34,000 to the family of a murdered university student because local prosecutors mistakenly allowed an American suspect to return home, according to court officials.

The decision from early this week ends a seven-year fight from the victim’s family, who was outraged that South Korean officials failed to stop Arthur Patterson, one of the two suspects in the case, from leaving South Korea, according to a family spokesman.

“The innocent young man was brutally murdered without knowing the reason,” said Seo Kwan-sho, the victim’s uncle and the family’s spokesman.

“Living is not living for his parents ever since. … [They] only endure painful moments every day.”

In April 1997, Cho Chong-pil was stabbed to death in a Burger King restroom in Itaewon.

Investigators and experts at the time said the stabbing appeared to be random and similar to an American gang-style killing.

Two American teens, Patterson and Eddie Lee, were charged in the case.

Patterson, the dependent of a contract worker for U.S. Forces Korea, was charged with possessing a deadly weapon and destroying evidence.

He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months.

Lee, who had no direct connection to USFK, was charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison.

A higher court, however, reduced that sentence to 20 years and ultimately acquitted Lee for lack of evidence after he had served 18 months.

Patterson also was released early from prison in 1998, in the annual Aug. 15 liberation day amnesty granted by the South Korean government to some 2,000 convicts.

Prosecutors promised to pursue the case and perhaps file a harsher charge against Patterson.

Yet after his release from prison, he was allowed to leave South Korea, the court’s ruling this week admitted.

For that, Cho’s family sued for $100,000, according to Seo.

This week’s decision ends that fight, Seo said.


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