Woman sentenced to two years for setting Yongsan fire
June 10, 2006
SEOUL — A Seoul Western District Court judge on Thursday sentenced a South Korean woman to two years in prison for setting a fire on a U.S. military compound adjacent to Yongsan Garrison in March.
But before Kweon Jung-ja, 57, can serve the sentence, she must be treated for a mental illness that South Korean officials say she suffers from, Chief Judge Kim Yun-kwon ruled.
Officials determined Kweon was competent to stand trial after admitting to trespassing on the compound and starting the March 16 blaze that hospitalized three South Korean workers and destroyed three buildings.
Kweon wasn’t present in court Thursday morning, which caused a momentary disruption in the proceedings.
When the judge asked a court guard why Kweon wasn’t at the hearing, he replied, “She said that she [won’t] come to the courtroom today.”
After a brief pause, Kim announced he would sentence her in absentia. Kim said the 84 days she’s been detained during the investigation and trial would be counted toward the sentence.
Kweon’s defense attorney, Kim Hyung-guk, said he wasn’t sure why his client didn’t attend the sentencing hearing. He said she remains in the Yeoungdeungpo Correctional Institute, south of Seoul.
But, he said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon, he believes Kweon will appeal the sentence.
Prosecutor Park Seung-hwan explained that there is no timetable on how long Kweon might stay in the medical facility before serving the jail sentence. She’ll transfer to prison after medical officials determine she can make the move, he said.
During a May hearing, Kweon testified that she set the fire because she couldn’t obtain a U.S. visa to visit her family. She said she spent years protesting America and South Korea for refusing to help her reunite with her sons.
Prosecutors had sought a five-year sentence because men were injured that night. One worker remained hospitalized in late May but there was no update available on his condition Thursday.
U.S. Forces Korea officials had no comment on the sentence.