South Korea brothel fire verdict postponed
June 22, 2012
SEOUL — The announcement of a verdict in the case of a U.S. soldier accused of burning down an Itaewon brothel was postponed Friday because of questions about whether he had been in contact with the owner, a witness in the case.
Pfc. Marcos Pedraza-Pascual, accused of setting fire to the Tiger Tavern last November, claims he accidentally knocked over a candle that started the blaze. The owner, Lee Seo-yoon, testified in April that she believed he did not mean to start the fire, and should not be punished.
A prosecutor for the Seoul Central District Court asked that the close of the trial be delayed so he could obtain cell phone records and determine if Pedraza-Pascual and Lee had communicated before Lee’s testimony. On Friday, when a panel of judges was initially scheduled to hand down its verdict, the prosecutor said he had received but not yet reviewed those records.
During questioning, Pedraza-Pascual said he lost his cell phone before the fire and did not replace it. He said he had not spoken with Lee before her testimony.
Much of the 15-minute hearing consisted of the prosecution questioning Pedraza-Pascual about why he had placed the lit candle on a bed instead of elsewhere in the room, and how he bumped into the bed and knocked the candle over.
The soldier has previously testified that he had been drinking heavily that night, and placed the candle on the bed before he went into an adjacent bathroom. On Friday, he said he bumped into a freestanding air conditioning unit and may have hit the bed with his feet as he tried to recover his balance.
The Tiger Tavern, located on Itaewon’s Hooker Hill, has been off-limits to U.S. troops since 2003.
The Nov. 15 fire has drawn attention in South Korea because it involved a member of the U.S. military. It also took place approximately one month after U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James Thurman placed the military under an off-post curfew following several highly publicized crimes involving U.S. servicemembers.
A verdict will be announced July 13.