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Just 5 years in prison for stabbing a Korean American to death?

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Good morning! It’s Monday, December 11.  Welcome to Katchup Briefing, the Korea Daily’s weekly English newsletter, where I’ll keep you informed with the latest news updates and perspectives from the Korean American community. If you want to explore more articles and columns from previous weeks, please visit koreadailyus.com.

Du Young Lee (right) was stabbed to death by a teenager in broad daylight a year ago in the Fashion District in Downtown LA. Lee’s daughter Chaerin (left) posted this photo on gofundme.com. [Screencapture from ABC7 News]

On Dec. 5, the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court sentenced one of the two teenage suspects responsible for the stabbing death of Du Young Lee, a Korean-American business owner, to just five years in prison. This punishment, the maximum allowable for accidental homicide within the juvenile court system, has ignited a firestorm of anger and frustration among the victim’s family and the public alike.

When tragedy struck, Du Young Lee, 56, was running a wig store in the bustling garment district of Downtown Los Angeles. On Oct. 1 last year, two teenagers, a young man and woman, brazenly broke into his shop in broad daylight, stole items, and fled. A horrifying altercation ensued, leading to Mr. Lee being fatally struck by a weapon wielded by one of the young robbers.

The Los Angeles Police Department acted swiftly, apprehending two 17-year-old Latino suspects within days. The L.A. County District Attorney’s Office subsequently charged them with murder and robbery, but here lies the crux of the issue – they were treated as juveniles rather than adults in the eyes of the law. The Korean-American community has argued that their crime is too serious to stand trial in juvenile court as they turned 18 already. The age of a legal adult is 18 in California.

The recent sentencing of one of the suspects, who was 17 at the time of the crime, has left the Korean-American community and the broader public in disbelief. They question why the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office failed to elevate this heinous crime to adult court, where the consequences would be commensurate with the gravity of their actions.

Naomi Hom, a leader among those demanding justice for Du Young Lee, points the finger squarely at L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón for the ruling. She recalls the passionate pleas of hundreds of Korean Americans and allies who stood outside the courthouse during the suspects’ arraignment, beseeching that they be treated as “adults.” Their impassioned cries fell on deaf ears, leading to a decision that many see as a grave miscarriage of justice.

Chaerin Lee, the grieving daughter of Du Young Lee, desperately urges the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office and the juvenile court to reconsider their stance. She yearns for the male suspect, who directly caused her father’s death, to be treated as an adult offender and face the appropriate consequences. “The prosecutor only mentions that it requires a decision from ‘higher-ups’ to charge him as an adult,” she laments.

“We have tirelessly written letters to the prosecutor, presented our own evidence, and brought witnesses to every court trial,” Lee continues. “If the suspect is sentenced as a minor, he can only receive a maximum of seven years in prison. The prosecution has not yet made a final decision on his status, and we fervently hope that he will be held accountable as an adult.”

Representatives from FACE, a Korean-American nonprofit organization advocating for stricter penalties in Du Young Lee’s case, voice their condemnation of the court’s decision. They see this light sentence as an injustice, one that diminishes the value of a human life and, more alarmingly, could send the wrong message about violent crimes in our society.

This tragedy has deeply scarred a community, and its echoes reverberate throughout our city. It’s a stark reminder that justice must be served equitably, without compromise. The suspects deserve more than a five-year sentence for Lee’s untimely death, and our society deserves a legal system that truly values the sanctity of human life.

As we continue to mourn this loss and rally for justice, let us remember that every individual’s life is immeasurably precious. It’s time for our legal system to reflect that truth and hold those responsible for such devastating acts fully accountable.

By Mooyoung Lee   lee.mooyoung@koreadaily.com