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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Atlanta Korean murder suspects lived together, burned victim’s body

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At left, suspect Joonho Lee testifies at a Korean American church in 2019. On September 15, another suspect, Joonhyun Lee, appeared for his initial hearing in Gwinnett County Magistrate Court. [YouTube capture, Fox5 screen capture]

In relation to the murder of a Korean woman in the Atlanta, Georgia area, it has been revealed that the Korean American suspects lived collectively, subsequently burned, and concealed the victim’s body.

During their initial hearing at the Gwinnett County Magistrate Court on September 15, bail was denied for Gawon Lee, 26, Joonho Lee, 26, Joonhyun Lee, 22, and Hyunji Lee, 25. They face serious felony charges, including felony murder, false imprisonment, tampering with evidence, and concealing a death.

“The acts of tampering with evidence and confinement are felonies,” stated the magistrate, “particularly, the attempt to conceal the victim’s death alongside the murder.”

The magistrate indicated that the suspects’ actions suggested they had burned the victim’s body.

Gwinnett County Police Department’s Public Information Officer, Juan Madiedo, informed the Korea Daily on September 15, “The medical examiner believes the victim was held captive and assaulted for roughly three weeks before her death in late August.” When discovered, her body was burned and wrapped in a blanket.

Another suspect, Eric Hyun, 26, is hospitalized, while Junyeong Lee, 15, was absent from the hearing due to his minor status. He will be tried separately in juvenile court. Despite his age, investigators released Lee’s real name because of the severity of his charge.

Gwinnett County Police later issued new arrest warrants charging all suspects with “criminal gang activity.” Under Georgia law, this can be applied when three or more individuals commit crimes collectively. This case is deemed an organized and sophisticated crime.

The victim, a 31-year-old Korean woman, had come to the U.S. in July 2023 on an E-Visa for a short-term three-month stay.

Police consul Woohyung Cho of the Consulate General in Atlanta shared, “We contacted the victim’s family in South Korea on September 14. We’re discussing the body’s repatriation procedures.”

The suspects reportedly lived together in a Lawrenceville residence at 2415 Stable Gate. Records indicate that Joonho Lee, Gawon Lee, and HyunJi Lee shared this address, which is where the crime occurred. The property was bought by the Lee brothers’ father in 2021. “Their associate, Eric Hyun, also resided there,” reported local media.

Given their identification as “Soldiers of Christ” upon arrest, it’s suggested they might have been part of a group guided by distinct religious beliefs.

FOX 5 News reported that police believe the victim’s injuries align with a religious ritual. One suspect, Joonho Lee, testified in 2019 at an undisclosed church near Atlanta. This church employed Lee’s father as a staff pastor then.

Senior Pastor Min of the same church shared, “Mr. Lee resigned about five months ago to start a new church. I recall him as a devout young man.”

Attempts to contact Pastor Lee have been unsuccessful so far.

“There’s no indication yet of other suspects or victims or of the crime being sexually motivated,” Madiedo stated.

Online impressions painted the suspects as devout individuals. Lee had worked as a physical therapist in Seoul, while Eric Hyun, a University of Georgia graduate, worked as an analyst at a prominent online payment solutions firm.

In 2022, Pastor Lee joined the Atlanta Korean American Pastoral Association. Before the incident, the Lee family had also registered at an undisclosed Methodist church in Duluth.

BY YEOL JANG, SUAH JANG    [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com, jang.suah@koreadaily.com]